Dr. Alyson McGregor: “Becoming a doctor was my greatest life accomplishment”

One of the critical ways to protect yourself from physician burnout is having a professional outlet that you can reach out to different members, gather together to discuss challenges and have a sense of community. The American Medical Women’s Association is one of those that supports myself and many other women physicians. Look for organizations […]

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One of the critical ways to protect yourself from physician burnout is having a professional outlet that you can reach out to different members, gather together to discuss challenges and have a sense of community. The American Medical Women’s Association is one of those that supports myself and many other women physicians. Look for organizations that address burnout and wellness that fit your specialty or interests.

The COVID-19 Pandemic taught all of us many things. One of the sectors that the pandemic put a spotlight on was the healthcare industry. The pandemic showed the resilience of the US healthcare system, but it also pointed out some important areas in need of improvement.

In our interview series called “In Light Of The Pandemic, Here Are The 5 Things We Need To Do To Improve The US Healthcare System”, we are interviewing doctors, hospital administrators, nursing home administrators, and healthcare leaders who can share lessons they learned from the pandemic about how we need to improve the US Healthcare System.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure to interview Alyson J. McGregor MD MA.

Alyson McGregor MD is a physician, researcher, writer and advocate for sex and gender-based medicine and women’s health. Her TEDx talk “Why Medicine Often Has Dangerous Side Effects for Women” has currently over 1.7Million views and her recently publishing a book “Sex Matters: How Male Centric Medicine Endangers Women’s Health and What We Can Do About It” by Hachette publishing is available. Dr. McGregor currently serves as an American Medical Women’s Association Ambassador.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into our interview, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?

Becoming a doctor was my greatest life accomplishment. The desire to become a physician was inside me from an early age and I feel as though each decision I made along the way was to ensure that vision was fulfilled. As a woman, I was always keen to the inequalities that existed in society for me and was grateful to the work of prior women that tore down the barriers that would have prevented me from having the right to further my education. After making it through the long educational process and beginning my career, I wanted to continue to improve the lives of women in ways that I had access too. While working as an emergency medicine physician, I witnessed the true gaps in medical care with women seeming to fall into those gaps disproportionately compared to men. I have since devoted my academic endeavors to advancing our understanding of healthcare from a sex and gender lens. Through my work in research, education and advocacy, my hope is to help science evolve so that it considers women’s unique physiology while also empowering women to receive the best medical care possible.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Most mistakes certainly are not seen as funny when they are happening! But I will never forget my first Academic Didactic on sex and gender medicine set to be presented at our national conference. This example is not quite a ‘mistake’ but it was a humbling experience. As usual, I overly prepared, I flew in other guest expert panelist and was ready to go as the moderator!……except no one showed up to watch it. It felt like someone had popped my balloon but, it served as motivation to connect with like-minded physicians outside of my specialty at that time. I then headed to the next American Medical Women’s Association conference and joined a newly formed committee on sex, gender, and women’s health! I continue to collaborate and move the needle so to speak with many of these same committee members ever since.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Eat Food, Not too Much, Mostly Plants” by Michael Pollan

This phrase immediately resonated with me many years ago when I first started reading Pollan’s books. I truly believe that one of the greatest things you can do for your body and mind is to feed it nutrients that will provide the best possible outcome. For anyone to achieve great things and to fulfill their destiny they need to tap into natural energy resources to fuel the process. As a physician, I see a lot of physical and mental suffering caused by modifiable risk factors for so many debilitating conditions. It is amazing the amount of care your body needs in order live a long, healthy, happy life.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working with co-leaders of AMWA to run a series of National/International Summits on the Integration of Sex and Gender into Health Professions Curriculum. This has been an exciting and worthwhile endeavor as we are currently planning our 5th Summit this November 2021. We have been bringing together curricular leaders in health education to ensure that the existing curricula considers the growing evidence of sex and gender-based medicine. This will have the outcome of ensuring that our doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and other health professionals learn how to personalize care based on biological and sociocultural variables.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

An excellent healthcare provider is one that continues to evolve along with our scientific advancements.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. The COVID-19 pandemic has put intense pressure on the American healthcare system. Some healthcare systems were at a complete loss as to how to handle this crisis. Can you share with our readers a few examples of where we’ve seen the U.S. healthcare system struggle? How do you think we can correct these specific issues moving forward?

A pandemic is not something many of us think about, never mind prepare for on such a massive scale. Clearly the access to personal protective equipment hit home for me as a front-line physician and it was extremely difficult to work each day not knowing if there would be enough equipment to feel protected. Where I think the US healthcare system struggled was with our political leadership at the time creating doubt in the power and confidence in scientific advancements.

Additionally, we cannot revert to past practices of studying mostly men in clinical trials and to be sure we design our scientific studies to reveal if there are important differences between women and men in the susceptibility, severity, response to treatment and outcomes. This declared itself as critical once again when looking at the differences in COVID-19 infection severity and the lack of sex specific data in treatments.

Of course the story was not entirely negative. Healthcare professionals were true heroes on the front lines of the crisis. The COVID vaccines are saving millions of lives. Can you share a few ways that our healthcare system really did well? If you can, please share a story or example.

As a front-line emergency medicine worker, I witnessed so many heroes that showed up to work to care for the sick despite the concern for their own health. These include doctors, nurses, secretaries, radiology techs, housecleaning, hospital transport, respiratory therapists, cafeteria staff — the list goes on and includes staffing a field hospital and vaccine clinics. We did it because it had to be done and we did it together. It is critical for all of us to feel valued so that we won’t hesitate to do it again if called upon. Many community members and businesses banded together to provide the emergency department with food, supplies, and words of appreciation that will never be forgotten.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. As a healthcare leader can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

I will share one. Diversity is key to improve the overall US healthcare system. When I refer to diversity here it is in the context of biological diversity (sex, age, ethnicity) and sociocultural diversity (gender, race, sexual minorities). When there is diversity in a team of scientists, the design of the research takes shape that includes that diversity. When there is diversity in HealthTech companies, the design of the product will consider a diverse population of users. When a physician group is diverse, there is better care for their diverse patient population. When an Institutional Review Board, an Educational Committee, a Funding Agency has diverse board members, decisions will be made to benefit diverse communities. When medical journal publishers, editors, and peer reviewers are diverse, the science that is published will be generalized to suit diverse patient populations. If we want a certain outcome, we need to ensure the building blocks are designed to create it.

Let’s zoom in on this a bit deeper. How do you think we can address the problem of physician shortages?

The issue is not about enrolling more people into medical schools. The issue is about retaining women and other minorities in positions of leadership where there is a drastic cut off in diversity.

How do you think we can address the issue of physician diversity?

This question seems to have an easy answer. Hire more diverse physicians! But as many of us who have tried to do just that, have realized that it is challenging to hire diverse workforce when the current workforce lacks diversity. There needs to be intentional and structured practices for retention of the current diverse faculty which will often lead to recruitment of additional faculty. One tip would be to stop looking for new hires that ‘fit in well with the climate of the group’ and instead look for those that would bring in what your current group might be lacking. Look to hire people that can provide new insights and skill sets.

How do you think we can address the issue of physician burnout?

One of the critical ways to protect yourself from physician burnout is having a professional outlet that you can reach out to different members, gather together to discuss challenges and have a sense of community. The American Medical Women’s Association is one of those that supports myself and many other women physicians. Look for organizations that address burnout and wellness that fit your specialty or interests.

What concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?

One key to all of this is to look at one’s personal influence. Are you a leader of a group or institution? If so, take that opportunity to make these issue a priority and have open discussions with your members. Are you a member of a committee that is either within your profession or community? If so, put these items on the agenda. Be sure that the other members are educated about the consequences of burnout and lack of diversity. Every person has individual influence in their own lives and need to make the necessary changes to accommodate personal and family needs.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I recently gave a Keynote talk and I received this email response afterwards “Is the 5th wave of feminism going to start in the waiting rooms of our doctors? We can only hope!” This sums up what I hope my work can support — a revolution of health care that embraces women’s unique health care needs instead of dismissing them as a complicated and emotional subgroup to contend with. My book “Sex Matters” provides actionable suggestions for women to gain confidence in the current health system while working towards its needed change.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Look for updates on my website www.alysonmcgregormd.com

Reach out to me via Twitter @mcgregormd ; Instagram @amcgregormd ; Facebook Alyson J. McGregor MD

Thank you so much for these insights! This was very inspirational and we wish you continued success in your great work.

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