Massachusetts Medical Society: Member Making a Difference - Dr. Philomena A. Asante

Member Making a Difference - Dr. Philomena A. Asante

Community Builder Leads Upcoming “Black Women in Medicine” Event

Dr. Philomena A. Asante
Dr. Philomena A. Asante

Philomena A. Asante, MD, MPH, is a leader in all that she endeavors. A polymath, she graduated from Harvard College with a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature before obtaining her MD from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and an MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health in international health. In addition, she completed two post-doctoral fellowships in general academic medicine and health services research at Children’s Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School. Formerly the director of child and adolescent health at the Boston Public Health Commission and the medical director at Northeastern University Health Services, Dr. Asante now studies for her social impact MBA part-time at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business while she works at BU as a staff physician in Student Health Services. Across her experience and expertise, it is clear that Dr. Asante has distinct motivations — as a pediatrician, public health leader, and student health expert — to create a diverse health care workforce and to promote networking, leadership, and sponsorship opportunities for physicians from diverse backgrounds.

To those ends, Dr. Asante leads Diva Docs, which was started in Boston by retired pediatrician Dr. Bettye Kearse as a social organization and, under Dr. Asante’s leadership, has grown over the last five years into a professional organization that provides leadership and sponsorship opportunities in addition to community support to Black women physicians. With Diva Docs, Dr. Asante helps to amplify the perspectives of Black women physicians. She created the Coverage newsletter series, which explores issues of disparities in health care, access, and treatment through conversations with members of Diva Docs. She is a founding member of PROWD (Promoting and Respecting Our Women Doctors), a national organization of volunteer researchers focused on promoting gender equity within the health care workforce. She also is deputy chair of the Alumni Engagement Committee at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In just a few short years as a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, Dr. Asante has taken on leadership responsibilities as vice-chair of the MMS Women Physicians Section and a member of the MMS Committee on Diversity in Medicine. She also chairs the “Black Women in Medicine” conference, a virtual event the MMS will host on November 3, 2021.

VS: What led you to become a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society?

Dr. Asante: I am always looking to advocate. I chose to join the MMS because of personal connections with members who encouraged me to get involved so that I could help the MMS evolve.

I realized that to create change, it is necessary to build alliances and create networks of communal support. I want to foster a community of all people in medicine so that common issues can be resolved through shared understanding and personal connection. The MMS helps to cast a large net to bring people together to address challenges that face the medical community. I am still learning how to advocate and create change, but one thing I know is that a community-oriented approach is the best path forward.

To achieve the change I want to see in medicine, we need more diversity in leadership positions so that change reflects the multicultural needs and viewpoints of the physicians and patients we represent. The most effectual change must include internal change at institutions that historically have not been supportive of it. The MMS must increase knowledge and understanding on diversity issues and show that it cares about the diverse physicians of Massachusetts, so that new members will join, and seasoned members will remain involved to promote honest conversation that will influence change.

VS: What are the goals of the “Black Women in Medicine” conference, and how did it come about?

Dr. Asante: The “Black Women in Medicine” conference is meant to bring together people from different backgrounds to build alliances and have honest conversations about difficulties in navigating the medical profession. Black women physicians face specific issues regarding mentorship, leadership, promotion, and bias that other physicians of color and other women physicians do not necessarily encounter. Throughout my experience in medicine, I’ve found that reaching certain levels of success depends on access to sponsors — key individuals in your social network who provide more than support and coaching; they help you strategize, connect you to influential people, provide you with high-visibility opportunities, and publicly advocate for your advancement and inclusion to critical activities both in and out of the workplace. It is my goal to democratize access to these sponsors as well as provide insider information and resources that can help Black women physicians advance and thrive in their careers. We don’t want the next generation of Black women physicians to face barriers acquiring and succeeding in leadership roles in health care.

We want to lift each other up and connect with the larger medical community as a whole. The “Black Women in Medicine” conference will help to create that community and foster beneficial relationships among individual participants and trailblazing conference speakers who have pearls of wisdom to share. We want to instill a meaningful feeling of support so that we can all benefit from each other’s experiences. We are seeking to create opportunities for Black women in medicine by mitigating historical barriers.

VS: Who should attend the “Black Women in Medicine” conference?

Dr. Asante: The information presented at this conference is for all people in health care. It is important for all to understand the unique position of Black women in medicine. The morning session will include some powerhouse women physicians who will share their experiences cultivating community and navigating the profession. Afternoon sessions are an opportunity for networking that is geared toward supporting Black women physicians. The insights shared will benefit the profession as a whole and, most importantly, will provide Black women physicians with community support and information to help them succeed.

The conference is free for medical students and residents, who may benefit most as they are in the early stages of their careers.

VS: How does your role with Diva Docs help to further your work?

Dr. Asante: I believe collectively, we as Black women physicians can accomplish more than any one of us can do individually. It is a “we” not “me” mindset that has grown into a community of over 200 women who lead together and learn from each other. We hope to continue to grow nationwide so that others can access our communal support, resources, and influential social networks. The world may distribute talent evenly but not opportunity, so I want to help those who can benefit from our experience, particularly those in the pipeline. Ideally those we help will in turn use their resources and social networks to help others. I believe that’s the circle of life. My gardening hobby has taught me that there is a season for everything. I hope that we can continue to usher in seasons of change that improve diversity in health care leadership and workforce.

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