Advocacy for gender equality in medicine College of Medicine

September 29, 2022

In honor of Women in Medicine Month, the College of Medicine is celebrating Human Medicine graduate Sheikha Jain. She is a renowned oncologist, advocate for gender parity in the medical professions, founder of the Women in Medicine Summit, and was recently selected as one of Medscape’s Rising Stars in Medicine.

Sheikha Jain, PhysicianDuring her tenure as a medical student and co-chair of the American Medical Student Association chapter, Sheikha Jane organized a march on the state Capitol to raise awareness of health care disparities.

Several years ago, she heralded her career as a world-renowned oncologist, medical school professor, expert in public health messaging, and an advocate for gender equality in the health professions.

“These disparities exist throughout our health care system,” said Jane, MD, a 2008 graduate of the College of Human Medicine and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Illinois. The question is, did things get worse? The answer is yes, this pandemic has highlighted, exacerbated, and exacerbated the inequalities that have been around for ages.” For women with intersecting identities, such as race and sexual orientation, the inequalities are even more important.

Jain founded organizations, gave countless lectures, and wrote at length about the obstacles women face in the medical profession—all while teaching, holding management positions, and treating patients at the University of Illinois Cancer Center.

“I don’t sleep much,” she joked.

Jane said that although more than half of the country’s medical students have been women since 2019, gender inequality persists in pay, promotions and research funding. Over the course of her career, she said, a female physician earns an average of $2 million less than her male colleagues, even when accounting for maternity leave and other variables.

“It’s an ongoing cycle because of the way the health care system is set up,” Jain said. “We see this system set up for women as failing.”

This is maintained by the fact that a lot of networking takes place over drinks, on the golf course, in the locker room, or other places that tend to favor men and where conversations often include the phrase “I know a guy who would be perfect for that.” Even women who are promoted are often criticized for being too aggressive — or not aggressive enough.

Jane said that the current system is not only unfair to female doctors, but can negatively affect women’s health care, noting that patients in medical studies often disproportionately include men, especially white men, whose symptoms of heart attacks vary, for example, about for women.

“When women are in leadership positions, there is an impact on women’s health,” Jane said.

During a TEDx talk in 2019, she called for a “gender shooting” to achieve parity for women in the medical professions. She has written on this and other topics in medical journals and publications of general interest, including CNN, USA Today, Scientific American, The Hill, US News, and Physician’s Weekly. She has been interviewed by the New York Times and Washington Post and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, ABC, CBS and other stations.

Jane is the founder and chair of the Women in Medicine Summit and founder and president of the nonprofit Women in Medicine. She co-founded and is CEO of IMPACT, a nonprofit organization that has worked to overcome public health misinformation, particularly about COVID-19. During the pandemic, IMPACT has created infographics, social media posts, and organized vaccination clinics for the underprivileged in Illinois.

The Department of Homeland Security and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine appointed Jane to a committee created to tackle misinformation about biological threats.

At the University of Illinois Cancer Center, she serves as Director of Communication Strategies in Medicine and Associate Director of Oncology Communications and Digital Innovation.

The list of activities, honors, and accomplishments for her—including being named one of Medscape’s 25 Rising Stars in Medicine in 2020—is extensive.

“As you can see from Dr. Jain’s biography, you’ve had an amazing feat,” said Sarah Barangi, MD, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, where Jane has lectured on leadership skills for women in health care.

While some male colleagues have joined the call for gender equality in medicine, Jane said, “There is a lot that needs to be done.” “We need to work on fixing the system, rather than fixing the women in the system. We need to think more about who’s missing from the table, rather than ‘I know a man’.”

Jane credits her success and activism to her years as a medical student.

“I will always be grateful for the education I received at Michigan State,” she said. “It allowed me to become the doctor I wanted to be.”

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