New student org launches for PSU women in medicine

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Illustration by Chloe Kendall

Lelani Lealiiee, Portland State University senior and BUILD EXITO scholar, is in the process of recruiting members for a PSU branch of the American Medical Women’s Association. The student organization will offer outreach opportunities, professional connections, and scholarships to female-identifying students pursuing careers in the medical field.

The genesis of AMWA mirrors the goals of other women-specific science groups on campus. The unique experiences women share in science-related fields allow for fruitful women-to-women partnerships on campus, according to several members of the PSU club Women in STEM.

Per the organization’s website, AMWA was established in 1915 as the first national organization of women physicians. The organization documented unequal treatment of female medical professionals in the workplace and encouraged its members to lobby for policy reform. AMWA established scholarships and taught members how to build their professional networks and “think strategically about their careers.”

Lealiiee said she was inspired to start an AMWA branch because of its wide offering of scholarship, community outreach, and convention attendance opportunities to women PSU students. “What I love about it is the whole notion of vision and voice of women in medicine” Lealiiee said. “Women can really empower women.”

Lealiiee added that women pursuing medicine is still not as common “as it should be.” While Lealiiee, who commutes to PSU from Vancouver, Washington to pursue her goal of becoming a trauma surgeon and still finds time to home-school her six-year-old son, is not a “typical” college student. She claimed that women in general are not expected to become doctors.

According to Mimi Shang, current president of the PSU Society of Women Engineers, women are often pressured to “fit in” with male colleagues and behave with “less emotion.” Women are pressured into “negotiating with [men] in social ways a male colleague would never be asked to do,” Shang said. Women in science, in Shang’s experience, are also discouraged from negotiating higher wages.

The importance of women-specific science clubs on campus, Shang said, comes from women validating each other’s experiences and pushing each other forward. “We have this passion and go into [science] fields because we really want to, not because other people are telling us to,” Shang said. “When [women are] able to harness our passion for these fields, this can be really powerful.”

Chrys Buckley, a female pre-med student graduating this semester, explained how pursuing any science degree is very demanding. “[There is] a lot of demand, a lot of off-sight volunteering in clinical settings, shadowing outside of class—there’s a lot of juggling,” Buckley said. Buckley said she appreciates women-specific organizations on campus because “they teach work versus life balance, how to avoid burnout, and how to negotiate salary.”

Whitney Hale, current vice president of PSU SWE, said making professional connections in women-specific clubs is also inspiring. “Being a minority, [women] experience a lot of micro-aggressions,” Hale said. “When we talk about it and find [that] we’re not crazy and [these experiences are] real, we can talk about and share great ways to deal with it. It’s so exciting to see women dealing with these things, [such as] doctors and surgeons who are successful. Then we see that we can do this.”

Through PSU’s BUILD EXITO program that awards research opportunities to undergraduate students, Lealiiee is able to work at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Dr. Martin Schreiber’s trauma lab. Lealiiee said she has made a lot of professional connections through her research that she is eager to introduce to AMWA members.

However, Lealiiee said she is most excited about the outreach opportunities AMWA can provide. Lealiiee said she hopes AMWA can partner with the Women’s Resource Center and other medical clubs to serve the PSU community. “I’d like to help the homeless community,” Lealiiee said, “like making packets for women in domestic violence situations and just leaving [an abusive partner].”

Lealiiee said she hopes AMWA reaches a wide audience on campus, including in its membership. “This is something for women in other majors,” Lealiiee said. “Medicine is not just one specific major. Anyone who is interested in working in the medical field is welcome and can share their knowledge and tips.”

Lealiiee is currently interviewing six potential AMWA board members. She can be reached for membership inquiries or questions at Lealiiee@pdx.edu.

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