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Empowering Women in Emergency Medicine

Dr. Dara Kass works at NYU/ Bellevue Hospital and is the founder of FemInEM, an open access resource that allows members to discuss, discover, and affect the journey of women working in emergency medicine. Dr. Kass was previously the director of undergraduate medical education at NYU and Assistant Program Director at Staten Island University Hospital. She completed her residency training at SUNY Downstate/Kings County Hospital. She is active in both the Academy of Women in Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) and the American Association of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). Alongside the growth of FemInEM, she has developed a niche in the advancement of women in emergency medicine. She is invited regularly to speak on topics such as professional development of women, unconscious bias, and achieving gender equity in Emergency Medicine.

I came across Dr. Kass and her organization FemInEM through my own work as an emergency medicine resident physician, and asked to interview her to learn more about the inspiration for FemInEM and the steps she took to create it.

Dr. Waldner: What inspired you to start FemInEM?:

Dr. Kass: I realized I was having many individual conversations with women in medicine who were struggling with the same challenges, like maternity leave, promotions, or salary discrepancy. Instead of having the same conversations with women repeatedly, I wanted to create an open access resource where members could connect and share advice on how to approach similar challenges. The initial vision was for this resource to provide a community where women in emergency medicine could feel empowered to ask for what they want; whether it be a promotion, working part time, or a contract negotiation. I wanted it to serve as a tool for empowerment. The real inspiration was to make myself obsolete, so that eventually, these issues don’t exist and we won’t need FemInEM. 

Dr. Waldner: What was it like building an organization while being a physician?

Dr. Kass: It is so fun! It’s a completely organic process. I had no idea when we started that we would be where we are. I couldn’t have imagined it. I intentionally try not to think about a 5 or 10-year plan but rather build in frequent reassessments. The real goal is to take new directions when the need arises. For example, all of a sudden we realized we needed to have a conference. We needed to provide a faculty development resource for women to cultivate the skills they need to be successful. So we developed the FIX17 conference and it was a huge success.

Dr. Waldner: Can you talk about the successes you experienced as an organization?

Dr. Kass: There have been so many. The biggest has been the disseminated effects FemInEM has had on the landscape in emergency medicine. One example is the Speakers Bureau. It was common in the past that the majority of speakers at conferences, grand rounds, etc, were men. So we created a searchable database of female speakers that organizations can utilize when selecting speakers. As a result, we have seen an increase in the number of women who are invited to give grand rounds talks. We’ve also seen females in residency championing the movement. They feel they belong to a community and further disseminate the advancement of women throughout the pipeline. These are huge successes!

I think the organization’s success is in its infrastructure. The individuals who want to be involved are driven to be part of the mission. They’ve found a place to park their academic niche that is non-traditional. Furthermore, it’s portable. The work they contribute creates a platform for education that can be separate from an academic center, hospital, or residency program.

Dr. Waldner: Your path is so inspiring! How did you do it?!

Dr. Kass: I realized early on that I had to be true to myself. I wanted to be more involved nationally to ensure my skills were transportable. This is so important! As a full-time employee, there is a fine line between a hobby and career. Once your hobby starts consuming a percentage of your time that is significant, you have to decide which one is your side gig.  So once I started not picking up shifts in the ER because I wanted to invest in my side hobby, I decided to change the algorithm of how I worked. So I made FemInEM my more prominent career commitment, and being a physician a side gig. I had to be honest with myself about where I wanted to spend the majority of my time and dedicate my nonclinical energy. It’s a huge leap of faith to reframe your center for academic energy. But the gift in what we do is that we need to go to the ER and work. You can work anywhere. So I asked my boss to be per diem so I could still work shifts, but invest more of my energy into the organization.

Dr. Waldner: What has been your personal key to success?

Dr. Kass: I am successful when I am true to who I am. I learned a long time ago that if I’m really frustrated in a circumstance, I need to understand how to work in an environment that I don’t find frustrating. I am really happy creating things that are impactful. I don’t always work well under people but I get a lot and give a lot to those that I work with. I need the right amount of autonomy and I work at a different pace, my own pace. I find success when I can be autonomous and build things the way I want to. This took me a long time to figure out.

Leaving academics was emotionally very difficult. We grew up defined by our academic success. So when you are reframing your success you have to do something that makes you feel secure. I had to reframe and plan my ideas of success and security.

 Dr. Waldner: What are your visions for the future of FemInEM?

I don’t know. I don’t want to know. But the next thing for FemInEM is to plan the next conference, FIX18, and deliver things in a sustainable way. I try to hand things off to people that work with me. I start things and then hand them off and empower people to take them on in a new way. We are trying to create things that are loosely related and develop a community and opportunities for the people coming up.