March 4, 2022

SWHR CEO Reflects on Reproductive Health Innovation Summit

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) CEO Kathryn G. Schubert spoke at the 2022 Reproductive Health Innovation Summit, part of the Women’s Health Innovation Series in Boston, Mass. on February 15-16, 2022. In the post below, she reflects on the event and shares how we can help to advance women’s health. This post originally appeared on the SWHR LinkedIn channel.

The 2022 Reproductive Health Innovation Summit brought together nonprofits, startups, industry, clinicians, and researchers to connect in ways intended to spark innovation, investment, access, and solutions across the reproductive health spectrum. Topics of discussion included male reproductive health and its impact on women’s health, how to remove structural barriers to women’s health advertising access (particularly enlightening when comparing against men’s health products), innovations in drug discovery, and opportunities to provide universal care for women.

I was honored to moderate a panel at the Summit on sex and gender in medicine, research, and practice. I was joined by Jamie White, MS, Health and Science Strategy and Relations Lead in the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Professor Rembrand (Rem) Koning, PhD, Assistant Professor of Business Administration in the Strategy Unit at Harvard Business School. Both White and Dr. Koning’s perspectives on sex and gender in medicine led to a rich discussion on where there are gaps and opportunities to better integrate sex and gender into the systems and practices of health.

Here are my top 5 takeaways from our conversation and other discussions throughout the Summit:

  1. Integrate sex and gender throughout the research process. We must acknowledge that sex is a biological variable and gender is a social construct. This difference between sex and gender needs to be clearly defined and understood within the research process to further medical progress and innovative scientific breakthroughs.
  2. Engage men in the research and development processes at all levels. While this applies in part to federal research investment, Dr. Koning sees engaging men in the process as especially key for private industry and innovators. Without buy-in and allies to support reproductive and women’s health work and thinking, investment in the development of products and digital tech geared toward women’s health will wane.
  3. Women are not a niche market and must be considered mainstream. Both panelists in my discussion agreed that the view of “women’s health” as a niche market is antiquated. Without a change in perspective, investment and progress will not be sufficiently fostered.
  4. Reproductive health is a continuum. Too often we consider “reproductive health” as only about birth control and related to women in their child-bearing years. In reality, reproductive health is a continuum – and it encompasses not only pregnancy and post-partum, but also conditions like endometriosis and uterine fibroids, infertility and fertility options, and life stages, such as the transition to menopause. A narrow view of the reproductive health space is hindering potential for innovative and lasting growth.
  5. We can do better together! If we truly want to make progress in women’s health, we must work together. Industry, researchers, clinicians, and government agencies can foster greater scientific breakthroughs and advance women’s health by sharing information, best practices, and filling knowledge gaps.