As a company founded by women, for women, we believe in celebrating and uplifting women’s voices. Their impact as leaders, mothers, and caregivers is far-reaching and particularly evident in the progress made for equal representation (although we still have a long way to go!).
In recognition of Women’s History Month our co-founder and CEO, Alison Greenberg, sat down with Ruth Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Vivian Greenberg, M. D., MPH, who also happens to be her mother.
Dr. Greenberg brings over 40 years of experience as an OB/GYN and was the founder of Womencare OB/GYN in the Philadelphia area. She received her medical degree from the Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her residency at the Hospital of the Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Alison: It’s often said that strong women make strong women. Can you tell us about the women in your life that inspired and supported you in your journey to medicine? What was the role of familial matriarchs and their reaction when you decided to go into medicine?
Dr. Greenberg: My mother was a stay-at-home mother during the early part of my life, and for probably 25 years altogether. When she finally did go back to work she enjoyed it immensely. She always instilled in her daughters that they had to be self-supporting and I took that to heart.
When I first announced that I was interested in going to medical school her initial response was, “that’s so hard, why don’t you do something easier?” But ultimately, when I did pursue a medical degree she, and my two older sisters, were quite supportive and encouraged me to achieve my goals.
Alison: Your decision to enter medical school was right around the time of the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s when the gender balance in medicine was beginning to shift. Did you know of women in medicine before you went to medical school?
Dr. Greenberg: I took a class on health education in college, and the woman who taught it was a physician. But they were few and far between in those days.
I came along at the beginning of the changing tide when I entered medical school in 1976. My class was 20% women, which was enough to say it was a significant minority. There were support and group meetings for women in medicine so while I wasn’t a pioneer, it wasn’t a profession many women were entering.
In my residency program, women were still a minority, and men dominated the field. My cohort was then 40% women but that was particularly due to the specialty of OB/GYN. If I had picked neurosurgery the stats would have been dramatically different.
Alison: When the balance started to shift, what was it like to practice as an OB/GYN among peers?
Dr. Greenberg: When I began practicing I joined a large department and was the second woman physician. Keep in mind this was at a large suburban hospital with the second greatest number of deliveries in the state of Pennsylvania. I think that department is now majority women so it goes to show how times have changed.
Alison: As your career progressed you ended up on an entrepreneurial path and built a practice of your own that has inspired the creation of Ruth Health. What was the inspiration behind this, and how did that initial disparity in physician gender bias factor into building your practice?
Dr. Greenberg: Womencare OBGYN, my clinic in the Philly area, was sort of a niche—an all-women practice. At that point, I felt that there were a significant number of women patients who wanted a group practice led by women. I was prepared to be one of the only women at that time offering such a service because I believed it was necessary.
Many of our patients felt more at ease with a women practitioner and would divulge issues they were experiencing as a result of speaking to another woman. This also played a role in the types of care that women were more comfortable asking of our physicians.
I think we were the first all-women practice within our particular hospital system, Abington Hospital. I retired three years ago and Womencare still is to this day an all-women practice.
Alison: We’ve come a long way. The field of OB/GYN medicine is now predominantly led by women. How do you think patient care has changed during the last 40 years?
Dr. Greenberg: To a great degree, patients are now encouraged to be at the center of their care. And as a physician, I believe it's my role to guide them in decision-making by providing education.
Education is the key to collaboration. Because when we want to empower women to take part in their own decisions we want them to make informed decisions. It’s a disservice to them and certainly difficult for the practitioner when they base their requests on misinformation or misunderstanding.
What we really need is good education as the basis for collaborative care. For example, we started referring patients to lactation consultants in the 1980s for both educational and emotional support. Unfortunately, there were very few pelvic floor therapists at the time.
Alison: You’re speaking to the core issue we’re trying to solve at Ruth Health—the need for help and the lack of access. What do you hope for in the future of women’s healthcare?
Dr. Greenberg: Much information comes out of necessity but efforts should be made to include research-backed studies that proactively support the health of women in general as well as pregnant women.
I also hope that women continue to find care providers, like those here at Ruth Health, that are focused on bringing them into the conversation regarding choices for better health outcomes.
Alison: We are grateful to have you as our Chief Medical Officer and appreciate your time today. You, out of all the women in my life, embody continuous learning and supporting women selflessly. Thank you for being a fantastic care provider and a woman that I admire.
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