In recognition of Women’s History Month, Alameda Health System (AHS) spotlights women physician trailblazers including our first permanent female chief medical officer (CMO), Felicia Tornabene, MD, and her executive leadership team, Porshia Mack, MD, and associate chief medical officer, ambulatory services and Andrea Wu, MD, and associate chief medical officer, acute care services. The most recent addition to Dr. Tornabene’s leadership team is Elizabeth (Beth) Mahler, MD and associate chief medical officer, acute care services at San Leandro and Alameda Hospitals.

“It is a huge honor to be the first permanent female chief medical officer at AHS, and while I didn’t set out to build an entirely female executive leadership team, the best candidates for the positions were women,” said Dr. Tornabene. “Hopefully, this signals a broader shift toward more equitable representation within physician leadership outside of our health system as well.”

Currently, only 35% of CMOs in the United States are female and women physicians are less likely than males to hold executive positions according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

Nationally, there are still fewer female doctors than male doctors, but the progress is steady. Today, women make up more than half of all students in medical schools and at AHS more than half of our physicians are women.

Drs. Mack and Wu chose to practice at AHS in part because of their shared passion for providing exceptional care to vulnerable populations. “Prior to joining AHS, I was a CMO within Community Health Center Network (CHCN) and AHS is where we could refer patients and know they would receive great care regardless of insurance status,” said Dr. Mack. “So, when I had the opportunity to join AHS, I enthusiastically jumped.”

For Dr. Wu it was about our mission of caring, healing, teaching and serving all. “When I interviewed for this position, I was truly impressed by how everyone embodies this ethos and is dedicated to making AHS a better place for patients, staff and the community,” she said.

Delivering exceptional patient- and community-centered care is also what sparked Dr. Mahler’s passion for a career in medicine. “I was driven to become a physician in part by the very personal and impactful relationships we can develop with patients and what I love most at AHS is the staff’s tangible commitment to continuously improve patient care and services.”

Throughout their career paths the executive leadership team acknowledges the important role mentoring has played in their success and are dedicated to paying it forward to the next generation of AHS physicians. “I want to extend ladders to everyone who wants to improve health care,” said Dr. Wu. “Part of the reason I wanted to work at a teaching hospital is to have an avenue for promoting leadership in health care, and I especially want to raise up woman and those underrepresented in medicine.”

Dr. Mack is currently mentoring a second-year resident whom she hopes will join AHS one day. “I think sharing what I’ve learned along my physician journey is helpful,” she said. “Sharing the joys, pains and challenges humanizes being a physician and lets others know that being a doctor is attainable.”

Finding trusted peers and mentors is important for all physicians but especially for women physicians who may be in specialties that do not yet have an equitable gender balance. According to the AMA, specialties with the least gender equality include orthopedic surgery, neurological surgery, cardiology and urology among others.

For Dr. Tornabene women who are interested in a medical specialty shouldn’t be deterred. “For anyone who is trying to forge a new path, reach out and talk about it,” she shared. “We can all be better by surfacing barriers and then working toward breaking them down.”

This month honors the many women  like Drs. Tornabene, Mack, Wu and Mahler who have dedicated their lives and careers to the health of their patients and to the communities they serve.

In addition, they selflessly give their time, expertise and mentorship, paving the way for the next generation of aspiring female physicians at AHS.

“We have many amazing women physicians at AHS,” said Dr. Tornabene. “I hope that they see the growing cadre of women physician leaders and feel inspired and empowered to set foot on that path.”