“That’s great. You want to start a women in medicine program! How are you going to pay for it?”
This is the most common question and potential barrier from colleagues, leaders, and those who understand the value of these programs. We found that our two-year Women Leaders in Medicine program improved burnout, retention, and engagement of the over 400 women physicians who participated. However, funding remained the chronic barrier to sustainability.
We are all very intelligent beings, but we have not been rewarded for creativity. We dutifully followed the narrow roadmap in education and training. If you have ever proposed a novel strategy to leadership that requires funding, you are aware of the predictable question which follows your presentation: “What are others doing?” I dare us to explore if any impactful movements have flourished under such a mindset.
I will introduce you to ten possible funding strategies to get your creative strategy-building blood pumping. I am certain that you will quickly add more of your own.
1. Tap into other wellness initiatives. This is obvious. However, framing this to remind leaders that 35 percent of our employed physicians are women could mean that asking for 30 to 35 percent of the budget is not unreasonable.
2. Engage with existing lectureships. Most academic institutions have departmental lectureships. Pediatrics might be interested in bringing in relevant speakers due to the high (72 percent) prevalence of female physicians. Orthopedics might be interested due to the opposite issue (6.5 percent).
3. Seek out grants. We are not talking 35-page NIH R01s. We are talking 1 to 3 pagers from your state medical societies, county medical societies, specialty, and other societies.
4. Charge for the events. We know that the institution “should” pay for this service, but we also know that we cannot hold our breath for this reality. We found that 90 percent of women physicians were willing to pay (or use their CME money if the program is designed to benefit from this) for women in medicine events.
5. Good old sponsorship. Imagine a room of 100 women physicians. It is possible that a disability insurance company love to do a 5-minute presentation in exchange for providing breakfast. A local food delivery service might be willing to donate lunch.
6. Internal sponsorship encourages local support and collaboration. We had the division of general surgery purchase our leadership books (Brene Brown, Angela Duckworth, Jim Collins, etc.) and place a sticker on the inside acknowledging such. Also, the hospital foundation funded a dinner in exchange for discussing the philanthropy program. Our board of directors supplied the wine (which also eased the paperwork).
7. Silent auction pre-event is advertising and fundraising. Many of our women physicians have side-gigs, talents, or resources which they may be willing to donate. Several hours of coaching, a week at someone’s VRBO, boat dinner cruise, or other partners’ business service could easily bring in thousands of dollars with little to no overhead.
8. If you do not ask, you will not receive. The most compelling business case for women in medicine programming is the dollars saved. This is hard to measure, but human resources and legal understand this. These areas may have creative strategies to partner with in exchange for anonymous surveys or interviews to collect data from this unique cohort.
9. Collaborate with other equity, diversity, inclusion, or religious projects. We found that of our 675 male physicians, 74 percent identified as Caucasian, while only 52 percent of our 719 women physicians identified as Caucasian. When women physicians are hired and retained, diversity is a bonus gift.
10. Fundraise from those who have the most to gain. Having the women physicians themselves fund a foundational account with the plan to continue this program for generations to come, fund scholarships for students to attend, recruit alumni to sponsor, and get creative with your foundation’s talents.
We have so much to lose if we continue to wait. More of our colleagues will go part-time or quit. We have so much to gain if we get creative and simply make those first moves and begin having conversations about how we can improve the house of medicine. We all need women physicians to thrive in medicine.
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