To the Editor:
Moderating and lecturing opportunities at academic conferences provide visibility for physicians and can directly contribute to career advancement and promotion. In recent years, several studies examined the gender breakdown of conference speakers, all showing the underrepresentation of women as speakers at these conferences.1,2 One novel approach to intervene and improve the gender diversification of conference speakers is to thoughtfully engage female trainees in conference programs as panel moderators.
At a national women’s leadership conference focused on physicians, 2 female medical students were paired with 2 established faculty members to comoderate separate panels. The 2 students arranged premeeting calls with the conference panelists and set the agenda for the calls. The 2 physician comoderators mentored the students in how to create discussion questions for their panels, draft and send concise and informative emails to panelists, and successfully direct the panel discussions.
The medical students and senior faculty members all found comoderation to be an important source of trainee mentorship and sponsorship. The students were able to obtain feedback on their presentation skills and learn deeply about the discussion topics. They also had an opportunity to network at a critical time in their careers. The faculty members felt that the students brought new perspectives to the panel discussions and were able to infuse the questions and structure with fresh ideas that were influenced by their ongoing experiences in training.
Encouraging more women to speak at conferences is essential to work toward closing the gender gap in health care, especially when addressing disparities in promotions and career advancement. Putting trainees, especially female trainees, on the stage brings them into the national conversation and creates opportunities for career development. Additionally, doing so builds a relationship between trainees and academic societies and carries the potential to build a young member base. This is vital for the infusion of new ideas into the organization, and future society leaders can be identified and mentored.
There are many groups and societies searching for ways to create more inclusive meetings, given the significant gender inequity in meeting speakership. Inviting more qualified women to speak and moderate panels at national conferences would foster a more inclusive environment while addressing the gender inequities that persist in the health care system. Comoderation can be an impactful intervention to bring a diversity of training levels, perspectives, and backgrounds to the stage. Meeting organizers should consider comoderation between trainees and senior faculty members as a model for future meetings.
Katherine M. Gerull, MD
First-year orthopedic surgery resident, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8534-2963.
Maren E. Loe
Fifth-year MD–PhD student, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1550-8646.
Mamta Swaroop, MD
Associate Professor of Surgery, Department of Surgery, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2853-8876.
Shikha Jain, MD
Assistant professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, University of Illinois, Chicago, Illinois; email@example.com; Twitter: @ShikhaJainMD; ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5684-7898.
1. Klein RS, Voskuhl R, Segal BM, et al. Speaking out about gender imbalance in invited speakers improves diversity. Nat Immunol. 2017;18:475–478.
2. Gerull KM, Wahba BM, Goldin LM, et al. Representation of women in speaking roles at surgical conferences. Am J Surg. 2020;220:20–26.