SWHR Honors Leaders Advancing Women’s Health at 2021 Virtual Annual Awards Gala

By Dezimey Kum, SWHR Communcations and Policy Intern

Supporters of the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) gathered together virtually for SWHR’s 2021 Annual Awards Gala on April 29 to honor three women who have devoted their careers to improving women’s health and women’s advancement in science and medicine.

SWHR President and CEO Kathryn G. Schubert kicked off the event by welcoming guests and highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has focused a spotlight on the research and health care community this past year. “We have learned a lot as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “It has raised public awareness and elevated the discussion on the importance of investing in scientific research, diversifying clinical trials, planning for public health emergencies, supporting innovation in diagnostics, therapeutics, and life-saving medical devices, and addressing health disparities so all Americans have access to optimal and equitable care.”

SWHR then presented awards to three trailblazing women leaders:

  • Health Industry Visionary Award: Lotus Mallbris, MD, PhD, Vice President and Global Head of Immunology Product Development at Eli Lilly and Co.
  • Health Education Visionary Award: Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, FACOG, President & Dean, Morehouse School of Medicine
  • Health Public Service Visionary Award: Nora D. Volkow, MD, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

In presenting the award to Dr. Mallbris, SWHR Board Chair Dr. Shontelle Dodson said, “As the head of immunology at Lilly, she is working to improve the lives of millions of women with autoimmune diseases by furthering innovation in health care and solving problems for patients. She is a passionate executive leader who brings a unique perspective to the industry as she began her career as a trained physician.”

Dr. Mallbris shifted from practicing as a dermatologist to joining a biopharmaceutical company because she wanted to help more patients get the treatments they need. “I know the importance of female representation in all aspects of life and health and of course in clinical trials,” she said in a video presentation. “At Lilly we have created a deliberate diversity strategy to help increase the enrollment of female and diverse populations in our U.S. clinical trials.”

Dr. Mallbris is also dedicated to helping women advance as leaders in the field. “I’m committed to doing my part to mentor the women I work alongside every day and to provide an environment in which their voices are heard and respected,” she said.

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs and a past SWHR honoree, presented the next award to Dr. Montgomery Rice, the first woman to lead Morehouse School of Medicine. “Dr. Montgomery Rice lends her experience to organizations that enhance pipeline opportunities for academically diverse learners, diversify the physician and scientific workforce, and foster equity in health care access and health outcomes,” Dr. Clancy said.

Prior to joining Morehouse, Dr. Montgomery Rice was the founding director of the Center for Women’s Health Research at Meharry Medical College, one of the nation’s first research centers devoted to studying diseases that disproportionately impact women of color.

“I work to not only serve as an inspiration for women pursuing careers in science and medicine but … I also try to help others to see what it looks like to lead the advancement of health equity for those who, in the medical establishment, have been traditionally left out,” Dr. Montgomery Rice said in a video presentation. “My story is also one of how education is the great equalizer, and the importance of mentorship and sponsorship, particularly for women and Black women, in spaces that in the past have been male dominated.”

Dr. Cen Xu, Executive Medical Director at Amgen and another past SWHR honoree presented the final award to Dr. Volkow. “As NIDA director, Dr. Volkow has worked to create an inclusive environment for women researchers to thrive and championed research on biological sex differences,” Dr. Xu said.

NIDA’s Women and Sex and Gender Differences Research Group supports the careers of women scientists, as well as promotes research on sex and gender differences in substance use disorders and responses to drugs of abuse. “Many of the outcomes linked with substance abuse disorders appear to be much more negative for women than for men,” Dr. Volkow said in a video presentation. “This is despite the fact that overall there is a larger percentage of men or boys that use drugs than women, but when women get expose to drugs they’re much more vulnerable to escalate and become addicted.”

Dr. Volkow is committed to advancing research that identifies and addresses the unique needs of women to improve the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders among women of all ages.

Following the award presentations, guest speaker Dr. Sudip Parikh, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), presented remarks on advancing the inclusion of women and people of color in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“Insisting on inclusion of underrepresented groups in the community of scientists neither sacrifices scientific excellence nor diminishes the accomplishments of those who have historically dominated the sciences,” Dr. Parikh said. “Race and the patriarchy are powerful social constructs with societal consequences that cannot be overlooked.”

The scientific community must increase the attention and support for those who have been historically disadvantaged. Institutions must push for policies that enable diversity across the scientific enterprise, such as increased pay and benefits for graduate students and postdocs, improving training and standards for mentorship, and providing safe and supportive workplace cultures.

AAAS hosts initiatives that aim to spark scientific curiosity for girls in childhood, showing them that women in STEM are changing the world. AAAS also provides direct support for women in science through fellowships that provide women scientists in postdoctoral roles with grant funding.

“The honorees tonight are great examples of what we can achieve by supporting and mentoring and sponsoring women in the field of STEM,” Dr. Parikh said. “They have led the way in encouraging others to follow in their footsteps, lifting as they climb and improving women’s health throughout their careers.”

SWHR’s second guest speaker, Dr. Judette Louis, Immediate Past President of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) and a former member of SWHR’s Sleep Network, spoke about the maternal mortality crisis in the U.S. “If you look at race and if you look at geography … there are stark disparities in outcomes and in the care that is received,” Dr. Louis said. American Indian/Alaska Native and Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication than white women.

The health care community must work to find the drivers of this crisis and craft interventions that work to reduce the disparities, she said. For example, the Momnibus legislation — endorsed by SWHR — takes a multilayered approach with interventions including investing more in social determinants of health such as housing and transportation and funding community-based organizations that promote maternal health.

Louis also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on maternal health and the exclusion of pregnant individuals from COVID-19 research on vaccines and treatments. “For us to improve maternal health and health equity, we really need to include pregnant populations in research,” she said. “We need a culture of inclusion rather than exclusion.”

As the event came to a close, Schubert reflected on SWHR’s vision to make women’s health mainstream: “We aim to empower and educate women with the goal of improving health disparities for women through 2021 and beyond.”

By Dezimey Kum, SWHR Communcations and Policy Intern

Supporters of the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) gathered together virtually for SWHR’s 2021 Annual Awards Gala on April 29 to honor three women who have devoted their careers to improving women’s health and women’s advancement in science and medicine.

SWHR President and CEO Kathryn G. Schubert kicked off the event by welcoming guests and highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has focused a spotlight on the research and health care community this past year. “We have learned a lot as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “It has raised public awareness and elevated the discussion on the importance of investing in scientific research, diversifying clinical trials, planning for public health emergencies, supporting innovation in diagnostics, therapeutics, and life-saving medical devices, and addressing health disparities so all Americans have access to optimal and equitable care.”

SWHR then presented awards to three trailblazing women leaders:

  • Health Industry Visionary Award: Lotus Mallbris, MD, PhD, Vice President and Global Head of Immunology Product Development at Eli Lilly and Co.
  • Health Education Visionary Award: Valerie Montgomery Rice, MD, FACOG, President & Dean, Morehouse School of Medicine
  • Health Public Service Visionary Award: Nora D. Volkow, MD, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

In presenting the award to Dr. Mallbris, SWHR Board Chair Dr. Shontelle Dodson said, “As the head of immunology at Lilly, she is working to improve the lives of millions of women with autoimmune diseases by furthering innovation in health care and solving problems for patients. She is a passionate executive leader who brings a unique perspective to the industry as she began her career as a trained physician.”

Dr. Mallbris shifted from practicing as a dermatologist to joining a biopharmaceutical company because she wanted to help more patients get the treatments they need. “I know the importance of female representation in all aspects of life and health and of course in clinical trials,” she said in a video presentation. “At Lilly we have created a deliberate diversity strategy to help increase the enrollment of female and diverse populations in our U.S. clinical trials.”

Dr. Mallbris is also dedicated to helping women advance as leaders in the field. “I’m committed to doing my part to mentor the women I work alongside every day and to provide an environment in which their voices are heard and respected,” she said.

Dr. Carolyn Clancy, Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs and a past SWHR honoree, presented the next award to Dr. Montgomery Rice, the first woman to lead Morehouse School of Medicine. “Dr. Montgomery Rice lends her experience to organizations that enhance pipeline opportunities for academically diverse learners, diversify the physician and scientific workforce, and foster equity in health care access and health outcomes,” Dr. Clancy said.

Prior to joining Morehouse, Dr. Montgomery Rice was the founding director of the Center for Women’s Health Research at Meharry Medical College, one of the nation’s first research centers devoted to studying diseases that disproportionately impact women of color.

“I work to not only serve as an inspiration for women pursuing careers in science and medicine but … I also try to help others to see what it looks like to lead the advancement of health equity for those who, in the medical establishment, have been traditionally left out,” Dr. Montgomery Rice said in a video presentation. “My story is also one of how education is the great equalizer, and the importance of mentorship and sponsorship, particularly for women and Black women, in spaces that in the past have been male dominated.”

Dr. Cen Xu, Executive Medical Director at Amgen and another past SWHR honoree presented the final award to Dr. Volkow. “As NIDA director, Dr. Volkow has worked to create an inclusive environment for women researchers to thrive and championed research on biological sex differences,” Dr. Xu said.

NIDA’s Women and Sex and Gender Differences Research Group supports the careers of women scientists, as well as promotes research on sex and gender differences in substance use disorders and responses to drugs of abuse. “Many of the outcomes linked with substance abuse disorders appear to be much more negative for women than for men,” Dr. Volkow said in a video presentation. “This is despite the fact that overall there is a larger percentage of men or boys that use drugs than women, but when women get expose to drugs they’re much more vulnerable to escalate and become addicted.”

Dr. Volkow is committed to advancing research that identifies and addresses the unique needs of women to improve the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders among women of all ages.

Following the award presentations, guest speaker Dr. Sudip Parikh, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), presented remarks on advancing the inclusion of women and people of color in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“Insisting on inclusion of underrepresented groups in the community of scientists neither sacrifices scientific excellence nor diminishes the accomplishments of those who have historically dominated the sciences,” Dr. Parikh said. “Race and the patriarchy are powerful social constructs with societal consequences that cannot be overlooked.”

The scientific community must increase the attention and support for those who have been historically disadvantaged. Institutions must push for policies that enable diversity across the scientific enterprise, such as increased pay and benefits for graduate students and postdocs, improving training and standards for mentorship, and providing safe and supportive workplace cultures.

AAAS hosts initiatives that aim to spark scientific curiosity for girls in childhood, showing them that women in STEM are changing the world. AAAS also provides direct support for women in science through fellowships that provide women scientists in postdoctoral roles with grant funding.

“The honorees tonight are great examples of what we can achieve by supporting and mentoring and sponsoring women in the field of STEM,” Dr. Parikh said. “They have led the way in encouraging others to follow in their footsteps, lifting as they climb and improving women’s health throughout their careers.”

SWHR’s second guest speaker, Dr. Judette Louis, Immediate Past President of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) and a former member of SWHR’s Sleep Network, spoke about the maternal mortality crisis in the U.S. “If you look at race and if you look at geography … there are stark disparities in outcomes and in the care that is received,” Dr. Louis said. American Indian/Alaska Native and Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication than white women.

The health care community must work to find the drivers of this crisis and craft interventions that work to reduce the disparities, she said. For example, the Momnibus legislation — endorsed by SWHR — takes a multilayered approach with interventions including investing more in social determinants of health such as housing and transportation and funding community-based organizations that promote maternal health.

Louis also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on maternal health and the exclusion of pregnant individuals from COVID-19 research on vaccines and treatments. “For us to improve maternal health and health equity, we really need to include pregnant populations in research,” she said. “We need a culture of inclusion rather than exclusion.”

As the event came to a close, Schubert reflected on SWHR’s vision to make women’s health mainstream: “We aim to empower and educate women with the goal of improving health disparities for women through 2021 and beyond.”