Empowering Women Physicians
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Chicago Medicine, a publication of the Chicago Medical Society (CMS), and is reprinted with permission.
To equip and empower female doctors, the Chicago Medical Society recently hosted a Women Physicians Forum in conjunction with the American Bar Association. Participants came to explore new tools and resources CMS has to offer through its programs and its partnership with the ABA’s Health Law Section. Not only did women hear from legal experts and others, the joint program between CMS and ABA’s Health Law Section introduced various support services that women have at their disposal through both organizations.
The Women Physicians Forum comes at a critical time. Women are poised to soon outnumber men in the medical profession, but gender inequality still results in “a lack of women in leadership positions, a gender pay gap, [and] stereotypes,” according to the American Medical Association.
Even as they reshape the physician workforce, women face several barriers. One issue, according to attorney Melinda Malecki, is that female doctors tend to devalue their skills and contributions to a practice or employer. It’s been a common theme during Malecki’s two-and-half decades advising female physicians through contract negotiations. The Elmhurst-based lawyer says women doctors may believe they should take any job offered just so they can have a job.
If women want to advance in their careers with the same ease as their male counterparts, holding top faculty and leadership positions, and getting equal compensation, they need to trust in their abilities and advocate for their own best interests, Malecki said. Fortunately, there are strategic ways women can advocate for themselves for equitable payment and work arrangements as an employee or independent contractor. These strategies are easy to learn, Malecki said.
In negotiating contracts, it’s also important to have an established relationship with legal counsel and to always plan ahead. Malecki strongly discourages “having your attorney call up a future employer out of the blue to make contract revisions. If you have what I consider the right relationship with your attorney you will know when to do that,” Malecki said.
Malecki was one of several legal and financial experts to speak at the Women Physicians Forum, which took place at the Physician Legal Issues Conference, a joint education program of CMS and the ABA.
The forum also addressed the business of medicine. It’s increasingly important for all physicians to build a personal brand. Establishing one’s individual brand and then promoting it in the marketplace may require the help of an executive coach.
Julie Bird, a certified public accountant and owner of a St. Charles-based firm, said that recent changes to the tax law have an impact on work arrangements. “The potential benefits of the small business pass-through entity deduction make choice of entity a little less clear-cut.” She urged participants to consult a tax advisor as opportunities present themselves.
“Tracking and requesting employer reimbursements for out-of-pocket employee related expenses is more important than ever,” she said. “Unreimbursed employee business expenses are not deductible as an itemized deduction as of Jan. 1, 2018,” Bird cautioned.
The area of greatest vulnerability Bird has seen in her 30-plus years with clients is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the numbers, such as practice production, collections, and expenses. Along with financials, Bird said that women thinking of buying, buying-in, or selling a practice, need to understand practice valuations.
The forum included a segment on harassment and other illegal conduct in the workplace. “Unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature can occur inside or outside of work and it can concern employees, supervisors, patients, vendors, owners or contractors,” attorney Lauryn Parks said.
Parks recommends that all employers develop written anti-harassment policies and develop a complaint procedure. When a complaint is made, employers should act quickly to investigate and resolve issues in the workplace. If an employee’s complaint is not taken seriously, she can file a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
One question involved whether unpaid board members and independent members of medical staffs are protected against harassment and how it can be legally addressed if at all in those settings. Parks said that there may be recourse through the Illinois Human Rights Act subject to factual circumstance and legal review.
For further information about empowering women physicians contact Melinda Malecki.
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