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New club leadership doesn’t let COVID derail plan

When Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s new American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) club leadership took over in March, they had ambitious plans. According to Natalie Rothenberger, MD Class of 2023, AMWA would launch a Women in Medicine Roundtable series to host women physicians in informal small group settings.

“The idea was to foster candid, interactive discussion about the physicians’ personal stories and challenges,” she explains. “We also hoped to get personal and professional advice from our guests. Our plan was to have each event focus around a certain specialty to allow for conversation specific to clinical training, as well.”

Then, on March 17, Geisinger Commonwealth was required to close its Medical Sciences Building and suspend all in-person gatherings as a result of COVID-19 mitigation efforts. It appeared AMWA’s new plans were dashed. Ironically, club leadership ended up exhibiting the very qualities their first roundtable guests would cite as absolutely necessary for a woman — or any — physician: resiliency and adaptability.

On May 5, two months into their new leadership roles, AMWA did indeed host its first roundtable via Zoom. The subject was internal medicine and guests were Christin M. Spatz, MD, FASN, director of clinical advising and assistant professor of medicine, and Jennifer M. Zangardi, MD, assistant professor of medicine.

Ms. Rothenberger acknowledges the event was as much a morale booster as it was a professional development opportunity. “I felt the roundtable helped build a sense of community among women, and I really valued how willing Dr. Spatz and Dr. Zangardi were to share their stories so we could have a more authentic view of residency and what is to come,” she says. “Their stories opened up dialogue about topics unique to women in medicine and were honest and yet very encouraging. We gained an understanding of what an internal medicine residency would entail, but more importantly strengthened relationships and created connectedness even during this unprecedented time.”

Fellow student leaders Rachel Evans and Maia Giombetti agree.

“Dr. Zangardi and Dr. Spatz demonstrated the need for adaptability and resilience,” Ms. Giombetti says. “Everyone’s career path is different and subject to change at any moment. Each path is as unique as an individual’s goals and priorities. You have to figure out what works best for you and be ready to change as circumstances change.”

“I think my biggest take away is that as a physician, particularly as a female physician, you simply cannot do it all,” Ms. Evans says. “It is absolutely necessary to ask for help to balance family and work and your own mental health, and it is OK to do that.”

GCSOM Women in Medicine Roundtable series 2020