As president of the American Medical Women’s Association, Nicole P. Sandhu M.D., Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic is dedicated to shaping the future for female physicians
By Trish Amundson
Women are making great strides in the field of medicine and are needed in health care more than ever before. Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., was the first woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. in 1849, and she worked tirelessly for equality. Nearly two centuries later, growing numbers of female physicians are following in her pioneering footsteps, yet there is still a long way to go to achieve equity in their work. To help overcome obstacles, many are leveraging support of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), which recently named Mayo Clinic physician Nicole P. Sandhu, M.D., Ph.D., as its president.
Long-standing advocacy for women physicians
AMWA was established in 1915. As the oldest multi-specialty organization of female physicians, it represents the vision and voice of women in medicine. At local, national and international levels, it offers advocacy and resources for leadership, education and mentoring to multiple levels of healthcare professionals, including medical students and premedical students. AMWA recognizes long-standing gender disparities and provides women physicians in medical and surgical specialties opportunities to connect and build relationships around the country. Other important initiatives focus on combatting human trafficking, the opioid epidemic, gun violence, physician burnout and suicide, as well as projects in the medical humanities.
Sandhu’s work with the organization spans more than a decade. “My involvement with AMWA has led to tremendous opportunities for leadership, a broad network of professional colleagues, and valuable mentorship and collaboration,” she says. “It has resulted in some of my closest friendships.” In addition to its many benefits, Sandhu personally has found that being active in AMWA promotes resilience and helps to reduce burnout.
Collaborating to address critical issues — including COVID-19
For over 15 years, Dr. Sandhu has practiced general internal medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She sees patients with complex medical issues, spending most of her time in the Breast Diagnostics Clinic, and studies the cardiovascular impact of cancer-related therapy.
“I have the privilege of practicing medicine in a physician-led academic medical center, which draws patients from across the region, nation and world,” says Sandhu. “Mayo Clinic actively strives for a diverse and inclusive workforce, welcomes all and believes in health equity. We hear it all the time, but it’s absolutely true: At Mayo Clinic, the needs of the patient come first, and this is the guiding principle for everything we do, every day.”
Currently, AMWA’s most pressing national and global issues pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are providing and sourcing medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to colleagues in Italy, the U.S. and other locations, in addition to providing educational resources and convening colleagues from numerous nations through a series of virtual meetings to discuss pandemic management. Many women physicians are learning from and supporting each other.”
Team-based, focused leadership
Mayo Clinic’s team-based approach embraces the diverse expertise and experiences of team members, and it serves as a foundation for how Sandhu collaborates and leads AMWA. “These factors align with my personal values and guide me in my clinical practice, my academic pursuits and in how I participate as a team member — and in how I work with my AMWA colleagues,” she says.
In her new role, Sandhu will focus on diversity, equity and inclusion — specifically health equity — to build even greater diversity within AMWA. “I also plan to work with my AMWA colleagues and experts in other organizations to contribute to raising awareness of the profound inequities in access to health care and social determinants of health that drive health disparities and hopefully contribute to ‘moving the needle’ in the right direction.”
Trish Amundson is a Rochester-area freelance writer.