#SHEmatology and #WOMANcology: Encouraging Women to Explore Careers and Leadership in Hematology and Oncology

Ariela Marshall, MD
Assistant Program Director, Hematology Fellowship, Mayo Clinic; First-year faculty member for the ASH Medical Educators Institute (MEI)
Eva Gupta, MD
Physician at Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Tampa, Florida
Julia Close, MD
Clinical associate professor of medicine and director of the fellowship training program within the Division of Hematology and Oncology at University of Florida in Gainesville
Martina Murphy, MD
Assistant professor of medicine and assistant director of the Hematology/Oncology Fellowship program at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville; co-director of the UF Obstetric Hematology Clinic
Samantha Shams, MD
Physician at Piedmont Cancer Institute in Atlanta

Over the past 50 years, women in medicine have gained greater representation, with each generation of trainees moving closer to gender parity. The number of female medical school applicants, new enrollees, and graduates has increased steadily, to the point of near-gender equality at the medical-student level: In 2017, more women than men enrolled in U.S. medical schools for the first time ever.1

However, women still lag far behind men in positions of academic medical leadership at the associate professor, full professor, and division chair level in most medical fields.2-4 According to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), men made up a larger portion of all full-time faculty positions, except at the instructor level, across U.S. medical schools. And, on average, male department chairs outnumbered female department chairs 17 to three.

In the field of hematology/oncology, while women make up between 40 and 49 percent of first-year fellows, they constitute less than 40 percent of the practicing academic hematology/oncology workforce.5-7

Women in medicine face an uphill career climb. Unique aspects of being a woman in medicine – such as pregnancy during and after training – can create challenges that may hinder career advancement. Several studies have demonstrated that, for female residents across a number of specialties, pregnancy is associated with health complications, negative peer attitudes and evaluations, and barriers to career advancement.8-12

Reaching Recruits

We strongly believe in the importance of early-career development and mentorship to encourage young women physicians to pursue careers in a specific field of interest. Both the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) have championed initiatives dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion in the hematology/oncology workforce, through events like the Networking Reception for Female Hematologists at the ASH Annual Meeting.

Members of the Millennial generation (people born between 1981 and 1996) and Generation Z (people born after 1996) have a particular talent and affinity for using technology and multimodal information-gathering for self-development. As they join the ranks of practicing doctors and medical students, technology is becoming a valuable tool for encouraging career development for women in a subspecialty field.13,14

Online resources and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are increasingly well recognized and accepted as tools to promote career advancement for women physicians.15 Take, for example, a recent article by cardiologist Gina P. Lundberg, MD, in which she urged young women to #ChooseCardiology – and invited women in residency, fellowship, and their early careers to use the hashtag to share why they would choose cardiology as a specialty again.16

As younger members join our ranks, technology is becoming a valuable tool for encouraging career development for women in a subspecialty field.

Women who chose the specialty of hematology/oncology are launching their own social media campaigns and networks to be supportive. In 2015, Suzanne Cole, MD, formed the Hematology and Oncology Women Physician Wolfpack Group (HOWPG), a Facebook group where women in our field discuss the practical and personal aspects of being a hematologist/oncologist.

It provides members with an online platform with content ranging from finding mentors and sharing career advice – major factors influencing post-fellowship career pathways in hematology/oncology – to discussing challenging clinical cases and asking for expert advice.17 Equally important, it serves as a forum for its more than 1,000 members to network and build connections – an essential component of career development.

The group has been recognized for its impact.18,19 In a recent poll of HOWPG physicians, members reported that HOWPG and other social media networks for women physicians had led to multiple positive outcomes. These include:

  • increasing the network of mentors and sponsors
  • collaboration on writing projects (review articles, chapters, etc.)
  • new speaking/lecturing opportunities
  • opportunities to serve as mentors and sponsors for other women in hematology/oncology
  • new patient referrals
  • collaboration in clinical or basic science research
  • reduction in burnout and improved career satisfaction by creating a sense of community
  • giving members the opportunity to both recruit and interview for jobs20

One instance of these opportunities unfolded in the pages of ASH Clinical News: After being invited to participate in a “Drawing First Blood” debate about anticoagulation during pregnancy based on her Twitter activity, Martina Murphy, MD, noted that she was able to collaborate with a leader in the field who then offered her an opportunity to be an institutional principal investigator for an international thrombosis trial.

We encourage all women looking for a career that offers opportunities for scientific development and provides substantial meaning and job satisfaction to specialize in #SHEmatology and #WOMANcology!

The Future Is Female

We hope to use social media as a tool to connect with women at all stages of training, including those at the premed stage, to offer the chance to explore the exciting field of hematology/oncology – which is overflowing with opportunities for women to pursue careers in clinical care, research, and medical education.

By building a network for both mentorship and sponsorship of potential future female hematologists and oncologists, we hope to improve both individual career satisfaction and develop a strong, committed hematology/oncology workforce.

It’s never too soon to begin networking! Existing opportunities include the HOWPG on Facebook (open to all hematologists/oncologists in training and practice with a valid NPI number), the Hematology Oncology Women Physician Group on Twitter (@HemOncWomenDocs), and the Women in Cancer international networking group (womenincancer.org).

We encourage all women looking for a career that offers myriad opportunities in scientific development, basic and clinical research, and education while simultaneously providing substantial meaning and job satisfaction by improving the lives of others to specialize in #SHEmatology and #WOMANcology!

We are here to provide a strong network of support and mentorship at every level of training and would love to share more about the reasons we love our field.


  1. AAMC, “More Women Than Men Enrolled in U.S. Medical Schools in 2017.” Accessed October 17, 2018, from https://news.aamc.org/press-releases/article/applicant-enrollment-2017/.
  2. AAMC, “Medical Students, Selected Years, 1965-2015.” Accessed July 25, 2018, from https://www.aamc.org/download/481178/data/2015table1.pdf.
  3. AAMC, “Distribution of Full-Time faculty by Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Rank, 2015.” Accessed July 25, 2018, from https://www.aamc.org/download/481188/data/2015table5.pdf.
  4. AAMC, “2015 Benchmarking – Permanent Department Chairs.” Accessed July 25, 2018, from https://www.aamc.org/download/481198/data/2015table9a.pdf.
  5. ABIM, “Percentage of First-Year Fellows by Gender and Type of Medical School Attended.” Accessed July 25, 2018, from https://www.abim.org/about/statistics-data/resident-fellow-workforce-data/first-year-fellows-by-gender-type-of-medical-school-attended.aspx.
  6. Deville C, Chapman CH, Burgos R, et al. Diversity by race, Hispanic ethnicity and sex of the United States medical oncology physician workforce over the past quarter century. J Oncol Pract. 2014;10:e328-34.
  7. Ahmed AA, Hwang WT, Holliday EB et al. Female representation in the academic oncology physician workforce: radiation oncology losing ground to hematology oncology. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2017;98:31-3.
  8. Merchant SJ, Hameed SM, Melck AL. Pregnancy among residents enrolled in general surgery: a nationwide survey of attitudes and experiences. Am J Surg. 2013;206:605-10.
  9. Gabbe SG, Morgan MA, Power ML, et al. Duty hours and pregnancy outcome among residents in obstetrics and gynecology. Obstet Gynecol. 2003;102:948-51.
  10. Rangel EL, Lyu H, Haider AH, et al. Factors associated with residency and career dissatisfaction in childbearing surgical residents. JAMA Surg. 2018 August 1. [Epub ahead of print]
  11. Attieh E, Maalouf S, Chalfoun C, et al. Impact of female gender and perspectives of pregnancy on admission in residency programs. Reprod Health. 2018;15:121.
  12. Krause ML, Elrashidi MY, Halvorsen AJ et al. Impact of pregnancy and gender on internal medicine resident evaluations: a retrospective cohort study. J Gen Intern Med. 2017;32:648-53.
  13. Desy JR, Reed DA, Wolanskyj AP. Milestones and millennials: a perfect pairing-competency-based medical education and the learning preferences of Generation Y. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92:243-50.
  14. Twenge JM. Generational changes and their impact in the classroom: teaching Generation Me. Med Educ. 2009;43:398-405.
  15. Shillcutt SK, Silver JK. Social media and advancement for women physicians. N Engl J Med. 2018;378:2342-45.
  16. org, “Why Young Women Should #ChooseCardiology.” Accessed October 17, 2018, from https://www.acc.org/membership/sections-and-councils/women-in-cardiology-section/section-updates/2018/07/19/12/42/why-young-women-should-choose-cardiology.
  17. Close JL, Cole SM, Beg RN, et al. Impact of closed Facebook group participation on women hematology/oncology physicians. J Clin Oncol. 2018;36:Abstract 11013.
  18. Doximity, “Representing the Hematology & Oncology Physician Women Wolfpack Group at ASCO 2018.” Accessed July 25, 2018, from https://opmed.doximity.com/representing-the-hematology-oncology-physician-women-wolfpack-group-at-asco-2018-6781fa6e1a79.
  19. Marshall AL, Jenkins S, Mikhael J, Gitlin SD. Determinants of hematology-oncology trainees’ postfellowship career pathways with a focus on nonmalignant hematology. Blood Adv. 2018;2: 361-9.
  20. HOWPG Facebook group, “How have HOWPG and other social media networks for women helped your career?” Accessed October 2, 2018, from closed Facebook group.