Feinberg’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) held its annual Women’s Forum on April 14, which included a reproductive justice panel featuring physician-scientists from states across the Midwest.
This year’s forum, “Promoting Reproductive Justice in the Post-Roe Midwest through Scholarship, Advocacy, and Clinical Care: Opportunities for Physician-Scientists,” was sponsored by the MSTP Student Council and moderated by Michelle Brown, MD, a health system clinician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The event also marks almost a year since the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade in the landmark Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center decision, which eliminated the constitutional right to abortion.
The panel featured Caitlin Bernard, MD, MS, assistant professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology at Indiana University; Alison Norris, MD, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology and of Infectious Diseases at the Ohio State University; Lisa Harris, MD, PhD, associate chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the F. Wallace and Janet Jeffries Collegiate Professor of Reproductive Health, and a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan; and Kelly Marie Ward, PhD, assistant professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
During the event, the panelists shared their own approaches and experiences in clinical care, research and advocacy as it applies to reproductive healthcare. For Bernard, she shared how her passion for providing care and conducting patient care research has fueled her advocacy efforts in reproductive justice with state legislators in Indiana.
“I spend a lot of time on advocacy, using that evidence to guide policy and to tell people about how policy is harmful or helpful. But providing care is probably my number one priority,” Bernard said.
The panelists also shared how the Dobbs decision has impacted their work as physicians and scientists, and what challenges the decision created for them and their patients who live both in and out of state.
“For me on the ground, this [decision]was not a legal issue or a political issue. This was an issue of health, of healthcare, of health equity and a health systems issue… we were focused very much on that level and it was a long, long, long to-do list,” Harris said.
“For me personally, it wasn’t shocking, but collective heartbreak is what I felt from people who did not expect this to happen, and then moments of solidarity,” Ward shared. “I see my students really interested have lots of questions about abortion because they realize that they might not get this information from other places, and I’m willing and open to talk about it.”
When speaking to MSTP students directly, the panelists emphasized the importance of leaning into curiosity and humility when developing their expertise, being brave when sharing their research and ideas with others, and putting people at the center of their work.
“If we’re waiting for our perfect moment, if we’re waiting to describe our research in the most perfect way, the opportunity will be gone. The people on this panel have been models to me in that when you have your moment and your thing to say, you say it,” Norris said.
“If you really want to make a difference in a world that is outside of where you are, you really have to figure out whose needs need to be at the center of your research…it’s really important that the people most impacted by the things that you’re thinking about are at the center of your research plan,” Harris said.