All you may need to know about Dara Kass, MD, and her passion project, FemInEM, comes at the end of one of her posts: “The only way things will change is if we women make it happen.”
That pretty much sums up her aspirations and her personality. She talks a mile a minute, and definitely puts you in mind of that old saw, “Want something done? Give it to the busiest person.” But the thing is, you're not only enthralled within the first five minutes of talking with her, you're a convert to her cause.
Nothing in the emergency medicine community has exploded onto the scene quite like FemInEM in the past year. The website, an open access resource devoted to approaching gender disparities in a positive way by empowering female and male physicians, mixes articles, awards announcements, and a women's speakers bureau.
Before FemInEM, Dr. Kass, the director of undergraduate medical education at New York University/Bellevue Hospital, had been actively involved with many formal emergency medicine women's organizations, including the Academy for Women in Academic Emergency Medicine (part of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine) and the American Association of Women Emergency Physicians (AAWEP, part of the American College of Emergency Physicians). But she said she felt that many women outside the organizations had no idea what was being done on their behalf, despite the great work these groups were doing. And when it came to common journeys of female physicians, she said she didn't feel they were all well connected.
A frustrated senior physician approached Dr. Kass at an emergency medicine education conference last year, irritated about a parenting issue while away from home. Dr. Kass helped her settle the issue, and thought this doctor-mom should share her story with other women. But were the academy newsletters the best forum?
“I realized we had written about similar issues in our women's group newsletters,” she said, but the readership was small. “The newsletters go to people in the various groups, but unfortunately only some of those involved actually read them. There had to be a better way.”
After all that brewed in Dr. Kass's brain for a bit, it eventually congealed into https://feminem.org, which she said she envisioned as the FOAM professional development resource for women practicing emergency medicine. “I said to a group of friends, we need to do something better,” she said. “It started with a lot of the content we already had. We tried to capture the voice of women in emergency medicine and the issues with which we had to deal. It took a little curation and guidance, but the result was attractive and readable.”
Work, Live, Grow
The buy-in from the community was “enormous,” Dr. Kass said, making her realize that the site had to go beyond repurposed articles. “We wanted a cross-generational vision. What we were communicating was not as much for the women who had done it but more for those who were still struggling with the issues.”
She turned to Jenny Beck-Esmay, MD, a trainee at her institution and now the chief resident in emergency medicine at NYU-Bellevue. Dr. Beck-Esmay already had an impressive list of credentials including editor of the AAWEP newsletter, member of the editorial advisory committee for the publication EMResident, and assistant resident editor of and contributor to CoreEM, a multiplatform site devoted to core emergency medicine content.
“Jenny represents a different generation in emergency medicine, and was the perfect partner for me,” Dr. Kass said. “We have different experiences and perspectives, but in many ways, the same issues persist.”
They divided the website into issue categories: work, live, lead, grow, and talk, seeking to answer questions like the fluctuating schedule needs of physician-parents or the struggle to minimize work-life conflict.
“We take for granted that we sacrifice,” Dr. Kass said. “We are emotionally invested in our careers and our families. We love being emergency physicians. We have to figure out how to reconcile those identities with each other.”
Dr Beck-Esmay agreed, saying these are central themes. “At the core, we desperately need amazing doctors who leave a mark on the patients but are also present in their own lives,” she said.
The core mission of FemInEM is clear: mentorship, career development, and peer support for all those practicing emergency medicine.
Just because FemInEM is focused on promoting and supporting women doesn't mean it is “anti-man,” Dr. Kass said. She and Dr. Beck-Esmay are clear that progress toward gender equity in emergency medicine will only happen when “we all get to the table.”
FemInEM is starting a conversation about change with women, Dr. Beck-Esmay said, but noted that part of changing that conversation is asking those same questions of men. “Our idea is bringing everyone into it and understanding the real challenges we are all facing”
Not all the articles on the site written by women. One essay has a male emergency physician reflecting on his paternity leave, finding it “a frustratingly rewarding experience you won't regret.” (http://bit.ly/28Yr0NN.) Another explains how a male EP became a fan of FemInEM after hearing Dr. Kass, Dr. Beck-Esmay, and Stacey Poznanski, DO, give a talk in June at the Social Media and Critical Care (SMACC) conference that “moved the audience to both tears and joy.” (http://bit.ly/28Z6I39.)
“The leadership in emergency medicine has been overwhelmingly supportive,” Dr. Kass said. Such approval, including being invited to speak at SMACC, was empowering, she said, as was her invitation to the Diversity Summit sponsored by the American College of Emergency Physicians. Some 20 physician-leaders from around the country convened in May to discuss gender equity, among other issues.
“The most recent addition is the FemInEM Speakers Bureau,” said Dr. Beck-Esmay. One of the major concerns has been a lack of female representation in forums and conferences. By providing a centralized and searchable database of women speakers, they hope to increase gender parity on stage in the near term.
Dr. Kass said she hopes to get more feedback from female emergency physicians who practice in the community. “As academic professionals, we sometimes exist in a bubble. It important that we recognize and support the variety of ways women are practicing EM,” Dr. Kass said. One issue she expects to see discussed in the future is how to handle maternity leave, particularly if the physician is an independent contractor. “Solutions are not ubiquitous.” she said. “Different employment structures require nuanced solutions, and we need to understand the practice variables before we can universally advocate for change. But we will advocate for change. Across the board, we are looking to help solve problems for all women in EM that were thought to be unsolvable before.”
Coming in October: FemInEM Focus in EMN
Be sure to look for EMN's newest monthly column, FemInEM Focus, in October! Dara Kass, MD, will look at the many issues affecting women (and men, but mostly women) in emergency medicine. Share your challenges and ideas by writing to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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