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Women's History Month

UI Health recognizes Women's History Month by highlighting the achievements and contributions women have made throughout history and in our community.

In Their Own Words

Some of our employees talk about how they celebrate influential women from their lives.

Susan Bleasdale MD

What might you recommend to others as they celebrate and reflect on Women's History Month?

I recommend some of the following as different ways to celebrate and reflect on Women's History Month

  • Find facts about women who have contributed to your field.
  • Be purposeful in recognizing the achievement of women in your workplace.
  • Talk with women in your workplace and life and try to understand the challenges or barriers they face. 
  • Consider how you can help sponsor, mentor, and promote women in your life.
  • Support a women's nonprofit organization.

Why is UI Health a place you are proud to work at as a woman?

I came here in 2012 because I believe in the mission of UI Health "To advance health for everyone through outstanding clinical care, education, research, and social responsibility".  UI Health and UIC have supported my career development as a woman physician and leader to help me serve our community in need.  I have participated in programing in my department, college, and campus that has provided opportunities for me to network, engage with, learn from, and mentor other women.

I am passionate about promoting gender equity and want to make sure we recognize that men have a role in this. I have found some of the most effective programs are the ones that bring together men and women to work to understand our own inherent biases and beliefs that may be barriers to equity. I am so proud of UI Health and UIC making a priority commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of its overall goals for our patients, faculty, and staff. 

Why does the celebration of Women's history and achievements matter to you?

This month's celebration helps create opportunities, equity, leadership, and mentorship for the wonderful women I work with at UI Health, for the next generation of women in our health science colleges, for women in all fields, and for my 16-year-old daughter, who I am trying to empower that she can do anything and be anything she sets her mind to.

Shikha Jain MD

Has there been a figure in your life — famous or not — that served as an inspiration to you and why?

I always come back to my parents, because they have always been, and continue to be, my biggest inspiration. My dad is a surgeon and his literal sponsorship and mentorship, both of my parents' career and life guidance, and help every step of the way throughout my life have been integral in my reaching where I am today. They are two of the strongest people I know, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had them as my support system throughout my life.

What excites you and provides you with hope when reflecting on Women's history?

We have come a long way as we look at women's history. This is especially true in healthcare. We now have over half of matriculating medical students identifying as female, over 70% of the healthcare workforce is comprised of women, and we are seeing more women enter leadership positions and leading change to work towards creating more equitable systems. Throughout this pandemic, we have seen women leaders across the globe provide calm, confident, powerful, and effective leadership during an unprecedented time.

As a result of these exemplary leaders, and intentional discussions and interventions to address and change the way we communicate about leadership, the language we use to describe what it means to be an effective leader is evolving. While there are still many disparities and inequities that exist, especially for those with intersectional identities, I am hopeful that we can continue to use the lessons we have learned throughout history to move towards a more equitable society.  

Why is UI Health a place you are proud to work at as a woman?

UI Health leadership has been extremely supportive in discussing the challenges that women face and trying to identify solutions to move forward. Through initiatives in DOMIC and the WTIG, I feel UI Health has a true interest in trying to improve the system.  I do quite a bit of work in the gender equity space, both through initiatives and educational conferences, as well as in research and mentorship/sponsorship, and I appreciate UI Health's support in my pursuing these mission-driven professional opportunities.

Mary Niewinski MS RD LDN

What might you recommend to others as they celebrate and reflect on Women's History Month?

As we celebrate Women's History Month, I would recommend that people reflect on the progress made by women in America and recognize that in some countries women are not even offered an education.   

Has there been a figure in your life — famous or not — that served as an inspiration to you and why?

My mom, Nora, has been an inspiration in my life.  Born of humble beginnings in Ireland, she was parentless at 17 years old.  She was sponsored to move to America, and she settled in Chicago where she met my Irish immigrant father.  They raised 8 children and my mom ran a well-oiled home.  She was very clear about right vs wrong.  She taught us that kindness, respect, and honesty start at home.  When we went to school, she told us that hard work would pay off and that we could do anything we set our minds on. 

We were all tall kids and she insisted that we stand up straight and speak up to be heard and represent ourselves.  She reminded us that there were others less fortunate than us and that we needed to pray and show gratitude for what we have.   My mom didn't finish school, but she knew how to shape the minds of her young children.  Not only was she the CEO and CFO of our house but she was the first person to teach us about healthy nutrition.  We took vitamins; we were not allowed pop and sugary beverages; we ate fruits and vegetables daily and had limited snacks between meals so as not to ruin our meals.  Although my mom is 81 years old, I am still benefitting from her wisdom each day. 

What excites you and provides you with hope when reflecting on Women's history?

Women's History Month is a time to recognize all the great accomplishments of women in America.  During this time there will be many opportunities for all people to learn more about the great women who have made a difference in our country.  I hope young women today are empowered by the struggles experienced by women in the past and that they strive to make a difference today.

What hopes or wishes would do you have for UI Health as it implements further diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives?

As UI Health implements further diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, I hope that all people will be celebrated for who they are and what they bring to the table.  I hope that 100% of all new people are hired based on their abilities and qualifications and not their gender or color.  I hope that all employees are held accountable to UI Health standards. 

Gloria Elam MD MPH Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology

Why does the celebration of Women's history and achievements matter to you?

I think the celebration of Women's history creates a space to honor the unsung heroes and reminds us of the unspoken achievements that women have accomplished. We have been leaders in our community and we can show the possibilities to the next generation.

What advice would you give to young women growing up in today's society?

I would tell young women to take a moment to reflect on their goals, take advice from others, and reach for the stars. Stretching yourself toward your goal; bring an energy that propels yourself and others toward excellence and service.

Why is UI Health a place you are proud to work at as a woman?

I feel that UI Health is a place where women can move into leadership roles and can be instrumental in decision-making and in the implementation of mission-driven goals.

Has there been a figure in your life — famous or not — that served as an inspiration to you and why?

I was particularly inspired by the work that Patricia Roberts Harris did as the first African American woman to serve as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Secretary of Health Education and Welfare - now known as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. With these roles, she was the first African American woman to serve in the United States Cabinet. She emphasized wrap-around services, saving communities - particularly inner cities and probably was an early component of what we now call social determinants of health - she was a true pioneer!