Today marks International Women’s Day – a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality and raising awareness against bias.
In the spirit of promoting female leadership within the medical field and the anesthesia specialty, we will be highlighting a series of women in the coming weeks who are making a remarkable impact in healthcare and in their communities. We celebrate the women leaders who are excelling in anesthesiology, and encourage a continued focus on supporting and encouraging the next generation of women leaders.
Getting to Know: Odi Ehie, MD
Odi Ehie, MD, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Francisco where she specializes in pediatric anesthesiology. Dr. Ehie is a first generation Nigerian American who brings a unique perspective to her work and to the CSA; she serves as Chair of the Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee within CSA, which was created in the summer of 2020. She also fills many other leadership and education roles at UCSF and in medical societies including her new appointment as Vice-Chair for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the UCSF Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care, and UCSF Teachers Scholar, where she started a diversity curriculum for the anesthesia residents, among other roles. She also maintains an interest in global health issues and serves as site co-director in Vietnam for the Health Volunteer Overseas / Society of Education in Anesthesia (SEA-HVO).
The importance of pipeline programs
Dr. Ehie believes strongly in pipeline programs to help foster the next generation of women healthcare providers and women leaders. Pipeline programs help increase exposure to the medical field and show younger audiences what is possible. Creating connections into high schools, colleges, and medical schools helps to nurture future healthcare providers, recruit individuals, increase interest in STEM, and create opportunities to shadow medical providers. This firsthand exposure is essential to increasing interest among a diverse pool of potential healthcare workers. Dr. Ehie credits her first exposure to the field of anesthesiology to the two-week mandated anesthesia rotation during her time at University of Wisconsin, Madison School of Medicine. She wasn’t aware of that career path previously but once she saw the way anesthesia combined her interests in pharmacology and chemistry in the service of patient care, she was convinced it was the right path for her. She stated, “If you give them the exposure, they can dare to dream even bigger and expand their horizons – that’s why pipeline programs are so important and can have such a huge impact.”
The importance of promoting diversity with intention
Through Dr. Ehie’s work with the “Differences Matter” initiative at UCSF, she has found a forum to talk about how unconscious bias and allyship play an important role in healthcare. She states that in order to address unconscious bias, there must be action at an institutional level to implement training and tackle the challenge with intention. She advocates for an environment where healthcare leaders are analyzing their assumptions, questioning their decisions on leadership, and being purposely aware of their own unconscious bias: “The power is in knowing your unconscious bias so you can be intentional in your actions to make our environment more equitable, particularly in the leadership space where women are under-represented.”
The importance of sponsorship and mentorship
Dr. Ehie believes that mentorship can play a powerful role in helping others achieve their career goals. She encourages physicians and healthcare providers to be open to requests from people interested in their insights. Sometimes mentorship can develop over time from someone you work with, but in other cases you may receive a phone call from someone you don’t know who is seeking out your unique perspective and support. She said, “It’s up to us that have reached our goals to make these new mentorship relationships possible and offer our services and support to those coming behind us.” Formal mentorship programs can also make it easier to build those bridges and create valuable connections.
The importance of diversifying leadership
Dr. Ehie noted that representation of women within medical school is fairly equitable, but there is a major gap as you look ahead to healthcare leadership roles. “It’s incredibly important for administration and practice leaders to be intentional in reaching equitable representation of women in leadership roles, and not settle for just seeing women in lower-level medical roles,” she said. With equitable representation in leadership comes equitable representation in perspectives and insights. This is good for patient care and is beneficial for building and maintaining strong healthcare practices as well as strong healthy communities.
Dr. Ehie can be reached at Odi.Ehie@ucsf.edu