International Women’s Day 2021: Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley on Challenges and Mentorship

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International Women’s Day 2021: Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley on Challenges and Mentorship

March 8, 2021

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, and it encourages all to challenge biases, misconceptions, and stereotypes in order to create a more inclusive and equal world. In her nearly two decades of experience as a health care provider, Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, our CEO, has been challenged by her own mentors while also challenging herself and those to whom she is a mentor to keep learning while also teaching those around them how to grow. 

In the first in this two-part interview, she answers three questions about her experiences as a Black, female health care provider and gives advice to others in the world of reproductive health. 

What do you think is the largest challenge that women face in reproductive health care in 2021? Beyond? 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon for The Council of University Chairs of Obstetrics and Gynecology (CUCOG), a membership organization for all academic chairpersons for OBGYN departments around the country. As I looked out across the luncheon, I noticed that it was a sea of mostly older, white men. This is in stark contrast to the field of women’s health, which is predominantly made up of women and is increasingly a diverse group. One of the things that I believe is a significant challenge for women in reproductive health—and women in leadership roles in medicine more generally—is that leadership roles in academic medicine continue to be dominated by white men which is not representative of the field, overall.

This lack of representation can present challenges when those in leadership positions who are responsible for creating an environment to support the development of faculty and doctors in training lack an understanding of the unique challenges that being a woman in medicine and being a woman of color in medicine poses. Moreover, the intersection of race, class, and gender also presents unique challenges for Black women who aspire to leadership positions. In my experience, Black female leaders will inevitably run into people who aren’t happy about having a Black woman in a leadership position and others who aren’t accustomed to seeing us in leadership roles. Institutions must recognize that these problems and biases exist, and that female leaders and women of color may need additional support and assistance navigating challenges from direct reports, peers, and supervisors. 

Thankfully, this lack of representation is changing over time as the pipeline of more diverse doctors and physicians ascend into leadership positions. I’m inspired to see that so many women—and especially women of color—are emerging as leaders in reproductive health care and health care in general. For example, the OBGYN department at the University of Pennsylvania, where I went to medical school, is now led by a Black woman, Dr. Elizabeth Howell. This is an exciting time for women in reproductive health and in medicine, overall. 

How have your mentors helped you to challenge yourself throughout your career? 

I have had amazing mentors throughout my career who have challenged me in different ways. One of the most important lessons I learned from a mentor early on in clinical training was to always center my patient, which is a lesson that I am working hard to apply to the context of the work that we do at Power to Decide. It is critical that we always consider and center the needs and desires of the young people who we aim to serve and ensure that they have the information, access, and opportunity to design their own lives.  

My mentors have also encouraged me to challenge the norms and harms of systemic and institutional racism and their impact on our health care and public health institutions. One of mentors, Dr. Joia Crear-Perry, President of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, is leading the charge on acknowledging and addressing the role of racism in health care. I constantly hear her voice ringing in my ears, “It’s racism, not race.” 

Every time we see a difference in outcomes and experiences for our communities, our patients, and even within the experiences of our staff, we must actively challenge the status quo and ask, "What is the role of racism here?” There is nothing intrinsically different about the bodies and physiology of people of color to explain differences in health outcomes. Where health outcomes are different for people of color, for people who use Medicaid, for people who do not speak the same language as their provider, etc., we need to ask why and work in a focused manner to get to the root of the disparity and work to address it. 

How do you challenge those who you mentor or who may look up to you to stand up against inequality that they see or face? 

I have worked, throughout my career, to educate people about the history of reproductive oppression and experimentation on communities of color. As providers, public health professionals, and policy makers, it is critically important to bring this awareness to our work. The communities and people that we aim to serve are often keenly aware of this history and it may impact the way that they interact with and experience our services and programs. We must work to educate ourselves on these harms and actively work to restore trust in the impacted communities. This knowledge and understanding is also vitally important to ensure that we do not repeat these harms in our current approach to engaging communities.