A self-defined frum Jewish woman, Eliana Fine wakes up at 3:45 a.m. and travels an hour to the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. She studies until 8:45, after which she attends six hours of classes. She then returns home to her husband and 2-year-old son. In her “spare” time she is the founder and CEO of JOWMA – the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association.
A non-profit organization, JOWMA is committed to supporting, empowering and advancing the careers of Orthodox female physicians, medical students and college and high-school students thinking about a career in medicine.
JOWMA’s first annual symposium, “Championing Jewish Female Success in Medicine & the Jewish Community,” is scheduled for Sunday, January 5, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel (Newark Airport), 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. Dr. Miriam “Mimi” Knoll, JOWMA president, is the symposium’s program director.
“The JOWMA Symposium 2020 is a can’t-miss event for any Orthodox female physician or physician-to-be. The program includes educational community health topics such as genetic screening and BRCA testing and career skills including telemedicine and social media, among others. We also have a dedicated symposium track for premed students, which will feature physicians on the admissions committees of multiple medical schools,” said Knoll.
The symposium is a major milestone in an organization that was created only six months ago.
“Orthodox young women who are considering a career in medicine ask themselves—and are repeatedly questioned by members of the community as to—how they can pursue a career in medicine with its many years of education and training and balance all the responsibilities of a Torah lifestyle at the same time,” said Fine.
She had these same concerns and was asked the same questions. While her husband and family were very supportive, she didn’t know anyone else on the same path. It could be lonely.
Dr. Knoll is a radiation oncologist at Hackensack University Medical Center and mother of four. She considers herself fortunate to have been raised in a family of doctors who supported her career path. However, she also acknowledged that “In the Orthodox world, it’s still considered somewhat unusual to consider a career in medicine. I meet a lot of young women who are worried and concerned if they will be able to do it,” she said.
Fine and Knoll connected on Instagram, where Fine blogged about being a medical student and an Orthodox, married mother of a toddler. She was excited to connect with Knoll, who invited her to join the Frum Female Physicians Facebook group. She was astounded to learn the group has over 450 virtual members.
The knowledge there were other women like herself led Fine to the idea of creating a networking group based on personal connections. When she and Knoll met in person in April, they agreed on the importance of creating a platform where Orthodox Jewish female physicians and physicians-in-training could help and mentor each other.
Enter JOWMA, a network of Orthodox women committed to supporting, mentoring, and encouraging future and present frum female physicians on their journeys on what can seem like a foreign road.
An event to gauge interest in a networking group was planned for May. A highlight would be a panel of current and future physicians who would share their journeys. Fine reached out to Dr. Bat-Sheva Lerner Maslow, an Instagram contact, while Knoll enlisted colleagues Dr. Mira Hellman Ostrov, Dr. Sherrie (Neustein) Orzel and Dr. Chana Weinstock Neuberger from the Frum Female Physicians Facebook group. The panelists signed on as members of JOWMA’s board of directors with Fine as founder and CEO and Knoll as president. (Medical student Ilana Marguilies joined the board shortly after the inaugural event.)
With a modest goal of 20 attendees, the event sold out in four days, attracting 100 women. “Clearly there was a need,” said Knoll. “It was really powerful to see all of the women. [The atmosphere] was one of optimism and encouragement.”
Through word of mouth and judicious use of social media, JOWMA has rapidly grown to include an advisory board, peer review abstract committee, mentoring program committee, membership committee and preventative health committee. Its website, www.jowma.org, is a wealth of information and resources.
In addition to supporting and mentoring current and future female physicians, JOWMA shares practical information on handling issues unique to its Orthodox membership: taking off for holidays, finding shomer Shabbat residencies, negotiating contracts and responding to what Knoll described as “inappropriate and illegal questions” regarding child-bearing.
An integral part of JOWMA’s mission is to provide a platform for members to give back to the community through preventative health education and patient advocacy.
“At the height of the measles epidemic in Brooklyn, just two weeks after the organization was formed, JOWMA saw a unique opportunity for our physicians to help educate the [Orthodox] community about the dangers of the measles. Partnering with the New York Department of Health, we created a hotline about the importance of vaccination. We also provided free in-home measles vaccinations during the outbreak,” said Knoll.
To date, the hotline has received more than 1,000 calls. Plans are underway to expand its educational content to cover a variety of health topics and concerns unique to the Orthodox community.
“Support. Empowerment. Mentorship. Networking. That’s JOWMA,” concluded Fine.
For further information about JOWMA and the symposium, or to register, visit www.jowma.org. Scholarships are available to JOWMA members who are physicians-in-training. For hotel reservations, please email [email protected] for discount code.
By Sherry S. Kirschenbaum