Women of ASA: History, Status and Scope

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May 2014 Volume 78 Number 5
Women of ASA: History, Status and Scope Elizabeth Rebello, M.D.
Committee on Professional Diversity

Cynthia A. Wong, M.D.,
Committee on Professional Diversity

Selma Calmes, M.D.

Women have been part of ASA since its inception more than 100 years ago as the Long Island Society of Anesthetists (LISA).1,2 This year marks the second time in ASA’s history that a woman, Jane C.K. Fitch, M.D., has served as president of our Society. As Dr. Fitch’s leadership is recognized and celebrated, it is important to review the history, status and scope of women in ASA, and to consider strategies to maximize the potential of women to contribute and serve the Society.


History of Women in ASA

Dr. Emilie Schirmer was present in 1905 at the first meeting of LISA; thus she was a charter member and is considered the first female ASA member.1,2 Dr. Alma Vedin, the first female officer of LISA/ASA, served as vice president from 1920 to 1922.1,2 Almost 90 years after its inception, in 1991, Betty Stephenson, M.D. was the first woman to serve as ASA President. In October 1992, Peter McDermott, M.D. selected Betty Bamforth, M.D. as the Emery Rovenstine lecturer, one of the most prestigious awards bestowed by the Society, and established the “Women’s Forum.” The forum transitioned into the ASA Committee on Professional Diversity. The mission of the committee has expanded over the past several decades; its current mission is “to promote membership and support members of diverse backgrounds which include gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability.”3

May 2014 ASA Newsletter

ASA Data

The percentage of women members of ASA has increased steadily over the past 15 years, from 20 percent in 1999 to 27 percent in 2014 (Figure 1). In contrast to the increase in general membership, the number of women in the ASA House of Delegates has not significantly changed (Figure 2). The ASA leadership has started to reflect the increase in the number and percentage of women members of ASA (Figure 3).There are 12 officer positions in ASA, and the number of female ASA officers has more than doubled in the last five years (Figure 4). Six of 51 editors (includes editor-in-chief, executive and statistical editors, editors and associate editors) of the journal Anesthesiology are women.

May 2014 ASA Newsletter

May 2014 ASA Newsletter

May 2014 ASA Newsletter


The pipeline for women physicians remains strong and viable. In 2013, a record number of students applied (48,014) and enrolled (20,055) in the nation’s medical schools.4 Continuing recent trends, the number of men and women applicants and matriculants were split quite evenly at 53 percent and 47 percent, respectively. The number of first-time female applicants increased by 1,102 (6.9 percent) from 2012 to 2013. Gratifyingly, residents have been choosing the specialty of anesthesiology in increasing numbers each year, and the percentage of women residents has increased from 28 percent 10 years ago to 37 percent in 2011.5


Mentorship and Sponsorship

Diversity among health care providers is an important component of providing patient-centered care, and gender diversity is a critical aspect of this diversity. Thus, our goal should be to support gender diversity in our organization and among our leaders.6 Factors that women anesthesiologists haveidentified to promote and supporttheir careers include job satis-faction, intellectual stimulation, mentorship, supportive work environment and promotion.7


Interventions that help createan environment that encompasses these factors include increasing awareness, mentorship and spon-sorship. Studies have shown that mentoring programs have contributed to career success with sustainability. Mentors maybe at any level within theorganization, and the ability tomentor does not depend on position or power. The ASA Committee on Professional Diversity initiated a mentoring program in 2009.8 The aim of the program is to enhance the professional career, leadership potential and active involvement of the mentee within ASA. Since its inception, the program has supported more than 25 mentoring pairs; 17 mentees or mentors have been women.


In contrast to mentors, sponsors are highly placed in an organization and have significant influence on decisions regarding advancement.9 One example of sponsorship is Dr. Peter McDermott naming Dr. Betty Bamforth to deliver the Rovenstine Lecture.


In examining the history, status and scope of women in ASA, several conclusions may be drawn. The number of women training in anesthesiology continues to increase, as does the number of ASA members who are women. Encouragingly, the number of women in ASA leadership positions has also increased, albeit at a slower trajectory. There is a need for continuing awareness, mentoring, and sponsorship so that women anesthesiologists may serve ASA and achieve their maximum potential in the areas of leadership, education, advocacy and research. Pursuing this objective will strengthen our organization and the specialty and enhance patient care.



Special thanks to ASA staff members Rachel Rusch and Felicia Reilly for their assistance with this article.

Elizabeth Rebello, M.D. is Assistant Professor, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.


Cynthia A. Wong, M.D. is Professor and Vice Chair, Section Chief, Obstetric Anesthesiology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.


Selma Calmes, M.D. is a Clinical Professor (retired), Department of Anesthesiology, University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine, Los Angeles. 


1. Calmes SH. Then and now: the women of ASA. ASA Newsl. 2005;69(10):8-11.

2. Calmes SH. A history of women in American anesthesiology. In Eger II E, Saidman L, Westhorpe R, eds. The Wondrous Story of Anesthesia. New York: Springer; 2014:185-203.

3. Bylaws American Society of Anesthesiologists. http://www.asahq.org/For-Members/About-ASA/ASA-Governance/Governance-Resources-for-Members.aspx. Updated October 16, 2013. Published November 14, 2013. Accessed March 17, 2014.

4. Medical school applicants, enrollment reach all-time highs [news release]. Association of American Medical Colleges website. https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/newsreleases/358410/20131024.html. Published October 24, 2013. Accessed March 17, 2014.

5. Women in academic medicine statistics and medical school benchmarking, 2011-2012. Association of American Medical Colleges website. https://www.aamc.org/members/gwims/statistics/. Accessed February 27, 2014.

6. Wong CA, Stock MC. The status of women in academic anesthesiology. Anesth Analg. 2008;107(1):178-184.

7. Rebello E, Porche VH. Causal factors that promote and support the careers of women in anesthesiology. Anesth Analg. 2009;108(suppl): S-80. http://www.iars.org/assets/1/7/2009_Abstract_Supplement.pdf. Accessed March 17, 2014.

8. Mason LJ, Kerr GE, Rebello E. Investing in our future leaders. ASA Newsl. 2011;75(10):6-7.

9. Travis EL, Doty L, Helitzer DL. Sponsorship: a path to academic medicine C suite for women faculty? Acad Med. 2013;88(10):1414-1417.