Once dominated by men, endocrinology has evolved into a specialty in which women lead the way in clinics, classrooms, and labs. Endocrine News spoke to 10 women in endocrinology about their views on the practice, their work and research, the Endocrine Society’s impact, and their advice for the next generation of women following in their footsteps.
In many ways, the field of endocrinology concerns women’s health. According to the Endocrine Society, “Endocrinologists are important members of the care team for women as much of their care is focused on ensuring the correct balance of hormones. The Endocrine Society advocates for improving and protecting access to care for women by pushing for evidence-based policies and advocating for better funding and research to address gaps in endocrine health.”
It’s no wonder, then, that this same field also attracts talented and visionary women physician-scientists to its ranks. With March home to International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, Endocrine News spoke to 10 women endocrinologists about their career trajectories, their work in the lab and in the clinic, the wonderful people who influenced them along the way, and what lasting impact they hope to leave on the field of endocrinology.
Ursula B. Kaiser, MD, is the current Endocrine Society president since July 2022, having served as president-elect since March 2021. She is chief of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Hypertension; George W. Thorn, MD, Distinguished Chair in Endocrinology; past-director of the Brigham Research Institute at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in Boston, Mass. Kaiser is also a past board member.
Carol H. Wysham, MD, is immediate past president of the Endocrine Society and a current board member. She is a clinical endocrinologist and diabetologist at the Rockwood Clinic, part of the MultiCare Health System in Spokane, Wash., as well as a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington.
Jenny A. Visser, PhD, is a past Endocrine Society board member and an associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where she heads the Metabolism and Reproduction Laboratory. Visser will be chairing ENDO 2023. Barbara Mensah Onumah, MD, is an Endocrine Society board member and the medical director of the Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center, Diabetes and endocrinology program, in Annapolis, Md.
Andrea C. Gore, PhD, is an Endocrine Society board member and professor and Vacek Chair in Pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin. Joy Wu, MD, PhD, is a past Endocrine Society board member and chief of the Division of Endocrinology at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Calif. Kristien Boelaert, MD, PhD, MRCP, is professor of endocrinology at the University of Birmingham, U.K., and a consultant endocrinologist at University Hospitals Birmingham in the U.K. She is a member of the Endocrine Society Annual Steering Committee.
Licy L. Yanes Cardozo, MD, is a practicing endocrinologist and physician-scientist at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Emilia Modolo Pinto, PhD, is a scientist at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Kristen R. Vella, PhD, is a past Endocrine Society board member and recently left academia for industry.
Endocrine News: What does being a woman in endocrinology mean to you?
Kaiser: Endocrinology is a field that is predominantly women — at least currently there are more women entering the field of endocrinology than men. I’m not sure exactly why that is, and we could speculate about potential reasons. Having a lot of women in the field is helpful because you have a peer group who have similar issues, challenges, and concerns as well as enjoyment from their career choice.
Historically, men predominated in all fields of medicine, but now that is evolving, and that evolution has been there long enough that there are now a lot of senior women in endocrinology.
Wysham: With the exception of diabetes, endocrinologic diagnoses occur in more women than men. Often the presentations are nonspecific and may be overlooked without listening, being mindful, and being nondismissive. I also highly value the relationship that I have with my long-standing patients, especially those with diabetes.
Visser: I was raised with the belief that men and women are equal, and I could do anything that I wanted to do, so I never focused on whether there are differences between being a woman or being a man in this research field. I always felt comfortable among both male and female colleagues.
Onumah: In the early 1900s, around when the Endocrine Society was founded, less than 5% of all physicians nationwide in the U.S. were female. One hundred years later, approximately 50% of all physicians in the in the U.S. are women, and even more are endocrinologists. Indeed, we have come a long way over the past century, and we still have farther to go. Being a woman in endocrinology means that I am very privileged and fortunate to be able to have a profession that I am passionate about and enjoy. I especially feel proud to be part of a group that encourages women to excel in medical science and research.
Being a woman in endocrinology, I try to remember daily, as I go about my duties, to find opportunities to inspire and serve as a mentor for younger persons, particularly women who may have interest or may be considering a career in science and medicine.
Gore: Women in Endocrinology (WE) has played a significant role in my career. As an early-stage investigator, I applied for and was awarded the Neena Schwartz Achievement Award. This provided travel support to attend the annual ENDO meeting in San Francisco. As a neuroendocrinologist, up until that point, my scientific society loyalty wavered between the Endocrine Society and the Society for Neuroscience. That ENDO meeting — which I would not have attended without the WE support — was a fantastic experience and cemented my primary affiliation with both WE and the Endocrine Society.
“Different mentors have different strengths, and not everyone is going to have an answer to the problem you’re facing. Sometimes you’re going to have to figure it out on your own, but there are people who support you and understand that you’re going through a tough decision. I think it’s good to have a good support network.”Kristen R Vella, PhD, Intellia Therapeutics, Cambridge, Mass.
Wu: I have always found endocrinology to be a very welcoming field. In the United States, 50% of active endocrinologists and 70% of endocrinologists in training are now women, so hopefully it’s a specialty where women can find plenty of opportunity. For example, the Endocrine Society has had excellent representation of women among its leadership.
Boelaert: Essentially, I feel I provide leadership in a field that’s traditionally been dominated by men, certainly with regard to research. It’s a very academic specialty that, like many fields in medicine, has been male dominated. I think I make a difference to patients who have conditions that often are very relevant to women. Many endocrinologic conditions are much more prevalent in women than in men, so I think being a woman helps to make me a better doctor in that sense, and to care for patients better.
Cardozo: Endocrinology is the perfect specialty for women. It is highly intellectually stimulating, as clinical manifestations in patients can present differently; it is a fantastic feeling when you can put the medical pieces of the puzzle together and succeed in caring for the patient. Moreover, the long-term physician–patient relationships established in the context of life-long medical conditions make me feel like an essential part of someone’s life, and that feeling never gets old. Those two characteristics make endocrinology the number one specialty for me.
Pinto: It’s not about valuing women over men but exploring the qualities and skills that we have for the benefit of all. It’s an opportunity to make an impact with my voice, my perspective, my knowledge, and my passion.
Vella: Recently, I’ve gone through the major transition from being a PhD neuroendocrinologist moving from academia into industry. So, I’m redefining myself, and I’m thinking more about how endocrinology pertains to my job now. Working in an industry job complements all the training I had, but how do those interests that I had before stay relevant? I think I have found a job that allows me to question the science we’re doing and make sure that we’re thinking about the whole organism — how hormone acts in all tissues.
When I think about that from the female perspective, navigating a career as a basic scientist or clinician is a little different than how men must think about it. Women think about, do I have a family? How do I integrate my family and professional life? But in industry, the support mechanisms are built a little differently. When COVID-19 hit, I had just started my family, and it really made me evaluate things and to evaluate whether the questions I was pursuing academically were challenging me the way I want to be challenged.
So, now, instead of focusing on one problem, I’m looking at a lot of diseases and a lot of tissues at the same time, which is not only more in line with my preferences, but it also allows me more time to focus on my home life. It was hard to grasp the idea of changing, but it has been beneficial in many ways.
EN: What is your particular area of interest?
Kaiser: My main areas of interest are neuroendocrinology and reproductive endocrinology. More specifically, in my research program, I study the neuroendocrine regulation of reproduction, study what those pathways are physiologically and then how disturbances in those pathways perturb the reproductive function in women — for example, stress, energy balance, acute and chronic illness, and inflammation. Clinically, my areas of interest are neuroendocrinology and pituitary disease.
Wysham: It has evolved over time. I have a practice heavily weighted in diabetes, both type 1 and type 2. As I have been in the same practice for over 30 years, I have many patients with more than 40 years of diabetes, many of whom are using advanced technologies. So, my interests are now geriatric diabetology and appropriate use of advanced diabetes technologies. I am also every interested in the cardiovascular and the nontraditional complications of “diabesity.” I have an active clinical research program, focusing on new therapies and cardiovascular outcomes. I am also involved in teaching clinical endocrinology to primary care providers, residents, and medical students — a highlight of my day-to-day practice.
Visser: My research focuses on metabolism and reproduction these days. I grew up scientifically in the reproductive field working on anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH), which brought me to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), the most common reproductive disease in women. A lot of these women also are obese and have insulin insensitivity, yet one of the hallmarks of PCOS is increased androgen levels. I was intrigued: Why do increased androgen levels have a deleterious effect in women but are beneficial for men? So that led my overarching research aim more into sex differences in metabolism.
In collaboration with my clinical colleagues at our department, we focus now on obesity, ranging from general obesity to genetic causes of obesity. We apply a broad range of techniques ranging from in vitro and in vivo models to genetic approaches like GWAS analysis. So, we cover the complete bench-to-bedside and back approach. It’s quite a lot of fun.
Onumah: I like all of general endocrinology, with particular interest in diabetes and insulin resistance.
Gore: I’m a neuroendocrinologist doing basic research on effects of environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the developing brain and underlying epigenetic mechanisms.
“It’s not about valuing women over men but exploring the qualities and skills that we have for the benefit of all. It’s an opportunity to make an impact with my voice, my perspective, my knowledge, and my passion.”Emilia Modolo Pinto, PhD, scientist, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tenn.
Wu: My clinical specialty is metabolic bone disease and osteoporosis, with a focus on bone health in cancer patients and survivors. I also run a research laboratory that studies stem cell sources of bone-forming osteoblasts and the bone marrow hematopoietic microenvironment.
Boelaert: My areas of interest are thyroid disease and, particularly hyperthyroidism, thyroid disease in pregnancy, and thyroid cancer. Most hyperthyroid conditions are about five to 10 times more common in women than in men. So, most of my patients are female, and I think it’s always nice to have someone look after you who understands. For example, if I look after a pregnant woman, I have been pregnant, and so I understand certain things that they report because I’ve “been there done that.”
Cardozo: I am particularly interested in women’s health with an emphasis on polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is the most common endocrine disorder in reproductive-aged women.
Pinto: Adrenocortical tumorigenesis, hereditary endocrine tumors, rare tumors, and genetics are my areas of interest.
Vella: As an academic person, I was working on how the brain regulated thyroid hormone and how it also drives the liver to break down thyroid hormone. But now, I’m using the liver to study several diseases. I previously didn’t appreciate the liver as much as I do now — such a profound organ, especially its endocrine capacity.
EN: Can you describe what you consider defining moments in your career?
Kaiser: Certainly, one defining moment is being president of the Endocrine Society this year. It’s an incredible honor to have the opportunity to help direct and provide support and service for the early-career members. It’s my chance to give back to the Endocrine Society after all that I’ve gotten from them.
In terms of awards, some that I received early in my career affirmed that my work was being recognized in the field, such as the Women in Endocrinology Janet McArthur Award and the Ernst Oppenheimer Award from the Endocrine Society. Then later in my career, I was fortunate to be recognized with the Agnes Schonbrunn Award for Distinguished Service to Women in Endocrinology and the Sidney H. Ingbar Award for Distinguished Service to the Endocrine Society. I also received a mentoring award from Harvard Medical School — it is nice to feel that I’ve contributed and supported and mentored others in the field.
In terms of some of the work I’ve done, identifying genetic defects associated with changes in the timing of puberty and understanding how those cause either precocious puberty, delayed puberty, or failure to go through puberty stands out. We identified genes that these mutations are associated with, which I hope has made a major lasting contribution to the field of endocrinology and science.
Wysham: I started the clinical trial program at our clinic in 1993 and then at Washington State University in 2001. Being involved in clinical trials meant interacting with many of the respected researchers in diabetes. These meetings opened doors for leadership positions in the American Diabetes Association and the Endocrine Society as well as opportunities to present at national and international meetings.
Visser: Sometimes, the people you meet can steer you in certain directions. I originally wanted to become a veterinary surgeon, but I did not get in the program and instead studied animal science. I grew up on a farm, so I was interested in that field, but I was unhappy with the study that I was doing. Then a new undergraduate student mentor was appointed and, recognizing my interest in biology and research, directed me to my first intern supervisor. Through her, I got the opportunity for an internship in the U.K., and that has been a defining moment because my supervisor there, Dr. Wolf Reik, really sparked my interest in research and encouraged me to get a PhD. I really have to give credit to my PhD supervisor Axel Themmen, who trained me in a lot of ways and gave me the confidence to recognize that I actually had some good ideas. He showed me how you can do research, still be critical, and learn in a pleasant environment.
Later on, my postdoc mentor Holly Ingraham taught me other aspects of doing research and leadership. These people have been very influential in sparking and keeping my interest in science. It is your interest that drives you to certain things. and you have to take the initiative in it yourself as well, but if you have the right match of people who support you, that can be great. I’ve been lucky that I have had such mentors.
“Embrace the unknown. Challenge the dogma, the current concept. Every patient is different, and remember that guidelines are there to guide you, not give you orders. Ask for help; this skill I had to learn, and I am still learning. Build your village and take care of it. Take care of yourself and love yourself unconditionally.”Licy L. Yanes Cardozo, MD, endocrinologist and physician-scientist, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, Miss.
Onumah: A pivotal moment in my career was about seven years ago, when I made a decision to leave my faculty position at a well-established university-based endocrine program to take on a new job as medical director of a diabetes and endocrine program. In this new role, I was tasked with starting a new diabetes and endocrine practice and developing a diabetes program for the health system. It was exciting and yet terrifying to leave a comfortable and predictable job and take on a completely new venture. However, taking on this challenge gave me exposure to a whole new aspect of healthcare that I would have never had the chance to experience, had I not taken the challenge.
Gore: I had the unique opportunity to organize and lead a one-day forum on endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which was scheduled the day before ENDO 2005 in San Diego. That meeting launched what is now the Endocrine Society’s leadership and preeminence in science, clinical practice, and advocacy around EDCs.
Wu: I had always wanted to go to medical school, but, in college, I enjoyed laboratory research so much that I decided to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. Then, during my endocrinology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, my postdoctoral research training with Henry Kronenberg led me to specialize in bone endocrinology. Finally, my search for a faculty position brought me back to Stanford, where I am thriving in an environment that supports physician-researchers and diversity.
Boelaert: The first was when I decided that I wanted to specialize in endocrinology. At that point I was told I would have to do some research to start on that trajectory because it’s a very academic specialty. So, I then reached out to my mentor, Jane Franklyn, one of the pioneering women in thyroidology from a generation before me when there were even fewer women in the field. She was an amazing mentor, and it soon became clear that I really liked clinical academia.
Then, in 2011, I went to the Mayo Clinic for a sabbatical of six weeks, which has been a real steppingstone in my career through learning how they manage their services as well as the contacts I made there. Even though it was difficult to leave my then young children, it enriched my CV and provided crucial career support. I would have extended the sabbatical if I didn’t have a family, but it’s always a balance of what’s feasible.
Finally, becoming a professor of endocrinology was very important. It felt like a bit of a crowning of all the work I’ve done and the things I had built.
Cardozo: I have several defining moments that clearly define my career path. One of them was when I was a second-year medical student in Paraguay. While I was reading Guyton’s Textbook of Medical Physiology, I thought, “I would like to practice medicine in the U.S., where the medical books are written, and medical guidelines are born.” The second defining moment in my career was during my endocrinology fellowship when the Endocrine Fellows Foundation awarded me a research grant and reignited my passion for basic research. Another of those moments was when I became a mom, as the transformative force of being a mom cannot be put into words.
Pinto: My better career-defining moment was moving to the U.S. My new assignment as a scientist gave me the opportunity to develop my projects and ideas with collaborations worldwide that totally fuel my career.
Vella: When the world was shutting down and COVID-19 was happening, I said to myself, “I want to cure someone today.” I don’t want to wait 15 years to get what I’m working on in the clinic. I needed something a little more immediate. So, it was kismet that this position opened, and my boss is a trained endocrinologist, which also definitely helps.
What started me on this path happened just after getting my undergraduate degree at MIT. Our department had a tiny nuclear reactor, and I got a job there as a nuclear operator. It was a huge turning point because we did a lot of research there, and I got exposure to the research process. Realizing that I like answering questions is what encouraged me to apply to graduate school.
Then, the people who supported me are incredibly important. During my graduate work at Umass Amherst, Deborah Good (now at Virginia Tech) nominated me for committee work at the Endocrine Society. That allowed me to see what an endocrine research career could look like. Because of that involvement with the Endocrine Society, I got a postdoc with Tony Hollenberg at Beth Israel. He has been a terrific mentor, and we worked together for 15 years. He gave me all the support needed to start my own lab and was also supportive when I said I was ready to leave.
Another big moment was winning the Endocrine Society’s Knockout Rounds for communicating your science in three minutes. That helped me realize that I can really talk about science. Little things like that boosted my confidence and my assurance in myself that I could do these things.
EN: What challenges have you had to overcome?
Kaiser: The most challenging time was earlier in my career, when my husband, who is also a physician-scientist, and I were balancing our two careers and raising a family. I felt a constant pull in both directions of making sure that I was meeting my work expectations and yet also meeting my family’s needs. My husband was an incredibly supportive spouse and partner, but where we were in our careers at that time meant that much more of the childcare fell to me because my work situation was fortunately more flexible. Later, he was in a different position, and his work allowed him to take on more at home.
Wysham: That comes down to having to prove myself at both of my postgraduate positions — I am married to a cardiologist — he was being highly recruited at both institutions, and I was the “come along” spouse. Within a year of starting, I was participating in the leadership of the respective clinics. I also have to be more assertive to avoid being talked over or left out of conversations at meetings.
Visser: In terms of challenges of being a woman, I don’t think that way. Obviously, differences do exist — I know there is a glass ceiling, particularly for women who have children, and returning to a career after a break is more difficult — but, for me personally, I don’t like to think there are.
Onumah: Balancing professional and family responsibilities has been a challenge.
“Being a working mother is a challenge for anyone, and balancing academia and clinical work is a further challenge, but it was also an opportunity. There is better understanding of these challenges, and we’ve made huge strides, but being a woman in a man’s world may always be a challenge.”Kristien Boelaert, MD, PhD, MRCP, professor of endocrinology, University of Birmingham; consultant endocrinologist, University Hospitals Birmingham, UK
Wu: A few challenging times in my career have taught me a lot about resilience. One was starting out as a working mom with young children, with long hours of clinical training and the pressures of getting publications and funding to compete for a tenure-track faculty position. Another was my diagnosis with cancer just as I was going up for tenure, going through months of treatment during a particularly nerve-wracking moment in my career.
I made it through these times, thanks to support from my husband, family, and friends. From these experiences, I came to really appreciate the importance of regular exercise, mindfulness, and asking for help.
Boelaert: My husband is a GP, and he’s been amazing in supporting my career, and it’s been very much teamwork. But when I was developing as a PhD student, my colleagues were all male, and even for those who were fathers, it’s not the same for them with children. That’s got good points and bad points: I will also always be the mother of my children, and they will always come to me first with their problems. I would never give up that relationship. But when my colleagues could go home and do some more work, I would go home and take the children to a music lesson, for example. I feel privileged that I had those wonderful times with my children, but it meant that I climbed the ladder more slowly. Being a working mother is a challenge for anyone, and balancing academia and clinical work is a further challenge, but it was also an opportunity. There is better understanding of these challenges, and we’ve made huge strides, but being a woman in a man’s world may always be a challenge.
Cardozo: Although I came to the U.S. a long time ago, in 2002, living away from my home country Paraguay and the rest of my family has been and still is very hard. Being a physician makes it hard to be away when my family needs me the most.
Pinto: My family was able to adapt to my working demands, but maintaining work-life balance and quality of time with my family was a big challenge. In addition, it is important to learn coping strategies to overcome a “not ideal” work environment. Self-confidence, dedication, and hard work helps.
Vella: I remember a professor in the physics department at MIT questioning whether I wanted to be there among all of those “grumpy men.” And I really didn’t have anyone to turn to discuss that conversation, how it made me feel. I didn’t have a support network.
More recently, I’ve learned how important relationship-building is and to make sure that all the people who are involved in a project stay involved. Keep the communication open.
There have been times when I have felt discouraged, so it’s a good idea to have a lot of people you can turn to. Different mentors have different strengths, and not everyone is going to have an answer to the problem you’re facing. Sometimes you’re going to have to figure it out on your own, but there are people who support you and understand that you’re going through a tough decision. I think it’s good to have a good support network.
EN: Does being a woman bring any advantages/insight to your work?
Kaiser: I think it does in many ways, because of the fields that I work in. The academic area I was interested in was the neuroendocrine regulation of reproduction, and the reproductive pathways tend to be more intricate in women. That ended up being a lot of my focus, and I started being recognized as someone who studies women’s health. So, from those aspects, I think being a woman does bring advantages and insight into that work.
Wysham: Female patients value being listened to, and I feel that, as a woman, I am more adept at listening to the patient, acknowledging their concerns, and discussing the likelihood of an endocrine explanation for their symptoms.
Visser: I work on ovarian reserve with AMH and infertility, and that can have an impact, so I can remind women that, if you do want to have children, don’t wait — there’s never a “good” time. I think that as a scientist and as a woman, there will always be moments during your career when you feel like you don’t have time; you want to do this other thing first. But I’m also very aware that men say the same thing.
I have noticed over the last few years that I attract more female PhD and undergraduate students. That may be because they feel safer in a female environment. It may also be the research field; here at Erasmus MC, currently 70% or more are female students.
Onumah: Being a woman in endocrinology means that I am very privileged and fortunate to be able to have a profession that I am passionate about and enjoy. I especially feel proud to be part of a group that encourages women to excel in medical science and research.
“I have always found endocrinology to be a very welcoming field. In the United States, 50% of active endocrinologists and 70% of endocrinologists in training are now women, so hopefully it’s a specialty where women can find plenty of opportunity. For example, the Endocrine Society has had excellent representation of women among its leadership.”Joy Wu, MD, PhD, chief, Division of Endocrinology Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, Calif.
Wu: Leadership classes often seem to teach a male-centric style of leadership, so, for a long time, I figured I lacked the necessary traits to be a leader. But, during the pandemic, I saw many women model a style of leadership guided by data, teamwork, and compassion. That’s the approach I hope to bring to my own various roles at work.
Boelaert: I think being a woman in endocrinology gives me more empathy. One of the things I’m very interested in is the weight gain that results when patients with an overactive thyroid gland get treatment. Many women feel misunderstood and are questioned about why that’s important. And, like I said about pregnancy, having been there always helps. Also, I had the benefit of having a really good female role model, and I do hope that I can be a role model for people as well in that it’s tough to be a full-time working mother and to balance academic and clinical, but it also gives so many rewards.
Cardozo: No, as a woman, but yes, as a mom. After having my two daughters, I have become significantly more empathic toward others; I have become more patient and protective of others. Motherhood is the ultimate teacher of those skills.
Pinto: I think that a woman brings empathy and passion to the workplace. In addition, the helpful nature and organization also helps to create a healthy workplace. Altogether, these abilities boost productivity levels and satisfaction. But this is not necessarily true in every place. Sometimes competition, discrimination, and jealousy are still present.
Vella: It allows me to help other women find their voice. Don’t be afraid to get out there and say it and fight for it. Mentorship is a big one.
EN: What conditions (medical or structural) need more attention?
Kaiser: In my field, polycystic ovarian syndrome is something we still really don’t understand very well and really needs more attention. Another condition that essentially affects almost all women is menopause, not only for the symptoms it causes, but also the longer-term risks and how to address those. There’s some really exciting work going on in that area right now.
Wysham: I think the impact of the markedly increased rates of obesity and diabetes (and their treatment) on children, young adults, and women of reproductive age has not received enough attention in primary care, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology.
Visser: For my research field, conditions like PCOS and recognizing obesity as a chronic disease are areas that require more attention. On a professional level for women, there are career aspects that vary a lot between countries, like returning to work after having children and how much time you’re allowed to be on a break pre- and post-delivery. So, opportunities for childcare are something that still needs to be looked at, for instance to attend a meeting. Is there childcare? Can you arrange it at home, or do you need funding for it? This has not been looked into enough and is something two of my colleagues and I as cofounders of the European Women in Endocrinology (EUWIN) hope to address. We do see there are opportunities for networking, particularly for female trainees, and ways that peers can help out. We also still need to make sure there is diversity at symposia and committees.
Onumah: Obesity and related comorbidities like NASH as well as diabetes and insulin resistance are conditions that need more attention. And, as it relates to these conditions, finding ways to ensure access and equitable care and improve affordability of medications for all patients is also important.
“I am a basic researcher, with the hope that my research will reach and influence others in my field mainly through my publications. Through my career, I’ve learned that the Endocrine Society provides almost limitless opportunities to have a much broader reach.”Andrea C. Gore, PhD, professor and Vacek Chair in Pharmacology, University of Texas, Austin, Texas
Wu: Osteoporosis is underappreciated as a health risk. Over 50% of women and 25% of men will have a fracture due to osteoporosis in their lifetimes, and hip fractures are especially devastating. We need more attention to the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of osteoporosis to lower the risk of fractures in aging adults.
Boelaert: I see this from the areas that I’m interested in. The weight gain in patients with hypothyroidism is very much an undervalued and underresearched area, which is actually really important to patients. I would also like more attention to the management of thyroid disease in pregnancy, where there are still so many unanswered questions, despite recently revised guidelines. Another area that still needs attention is how to optimally manage patients with an underactive thyroid.
Cardozo: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S.; about one in five female deaths are due to cardiovascular diseases.
The research in my lab focuses on PCOS. Women affected with PCOS can present with different clinical manifestations such as acne, excessive hair growth in areas that are generally normal for men, or hair loss on their scalp. They may also suffer from irregular periods or infertility and seek medical advice for those particular issues. As an endocrinologist, I am very concerned because women with PCOS are at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. The presence of these cardiovascular risk factors results in increased cardiovascular diseases. Obesity is a frequent finding in women with PCOS. My research team studies the impact of androgens on cardiovascular risk factors in women with PCOS and how we can effectively treat cardiovascular diseases in these patients.
Pinto: More space and opportunities for basic scientists and non-physicians in the field is needed. The contribution of these specialists is fundamental for the field.
Vella: Support for young families is needed. Cornell had a lot of great programs for first-time parents, and they provided a lot of support, i.e., longer maternity leaves. A lot of those were instituted by Laurie Glimcher, who was then the dean.
EN: What role has the Endocrine Society played in your career?
Kaiser: The Endocrine Society has had a profound effect on my career in terms of opportunities to meet and learn from other experts in the field and to present and become recognized for my own work. ENDO really has always been the premier meeting for people in endocrinology to present their work. Also, through being involved in the committees and the leadership of the Endocrine Society, I have learned so many skills — for example, how to be a committee member and how to lead a meeting as committee chair . . . and I was able to translate so many of those skills back to my own institution when I became chief of our division of endocrinology.
Wysham: I joined the Endocrine Society as soon as I was eligible. I attended meetings and read the journal, but my involvement with the Endocrine Society happened almost by chance. I was asked to join the Annual Meeting Steering Committee in 2011. In 2014, the Society decided to create a clinical practice co-chair position, and I was invited to act in this capacity for two years, then one year as overall chair, then on the board, and then president. It has been a whirlwind of activity. Being part of the Endocrine Society as a leader has been valuable in meeting the thought leaders in our field, understanding the challenges (pipeline, research funding, reimbursement, education of primary care about treatment of endocrine and metabolic conditions), and participating in development of strategies to address them.
Visser: The role the Endocrine Society has played in my career has been substantial. I’ve always attended the ENDO meeting because it’s a nice combination of basic and clinical science, so for me, as a basic scientist to learn about clinical research. It has been quite influential in that regard, particularly since I returned as a postdoc to a clinical department with strong translational research. The Endocrine Society also asked me to be part of the Annual Meeting Steering Committee several years back, and that has really propelled my involvement as a volunteer within the Endocrine Society. Later on, I became basic science chair of that meeting and a board member, both of which gave me access to leadership training. Those have taught me that I’m quite interested in governance. I’m now part of the executive board of our clinical experimental medicine initiative at our department to strengthen research between the different disciplines. I also became the chair of the nominating committee so there the governance part also plays a role, with specific training about diversity.
Really, one thing has led to another, and now I’m the chair of ENDO 2023 Steering Committee. It shows that it really is a fantastic society to learn leadership skills, which combined with what you learn at your own institute, you can apply. You bring back from one to the other and the other way around. The Endocrine Society has been very influential on the professional level but also on a personal level. You meet with people who you otherwise might not directly meet because they work in a different field, and you learn from them. It’s very collegial, and I really love the networking aspect.
“Being a woman in endocrinology means that I am very privileged and fortunate to be able to have a profession that I am passionate about and enjoy. I especially feel proud to be part of a group that encourages women to excel in medical science and research.”Barbara Mensah Onumah, MD, medical director, Luminis Health Anne Arundel Medical Center, Diabetes and Endocrinology Program, Annapolis, Md.
Onumah: I have been an active member of the Endocrine Society since 2005, and I have always viewed it as my main scientific society. Through my membership, I have had the opportunity to network and develop professionally. I have also met amazing people, with whom I have collaborated professionally and formed lifelong friendships. The Endocrine Society has also helped me stay on top of the constantly evolving scientific discoveries in endocrinology with the many educational and learning options.
Gore: I am a basic researcher, with the hope that my research will reach and influence others in my field mainly through my publications. Through my career, I’ve learned that the Endocrine Society provides almost limitless opportunities to have a much broader reach. Through committee service, I’ve gone to Capitol Hill to talk with policymakers about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, their adverse effects on endocrine health, and the importance of stronger regulations. I’ve also had unique opportunities to partner with other international agencies and NGOs on common concerns. These activities gave me a “voice” that I would never have had as an individual scientific researcher.
Wu: As a graduate student, my PhD mentor Anthony Means sent me to attend my first Endocrine Society annual meeting in New Orleans. I was so impressed by the interactions between basic scientists, clinical researchers, and practicing physicians that I decided right there to become an endocrinologist. Then, thanks to Dr. Means and my postdoc mentor Henry Kronenberg, both past presidents of the Endocrine Society, I had opportunities to serve on various Society committees from an early stage in my career. The networking that committee service afforded me was invaluable to my career advancement. Eventually, I was elected to the board of directors, where it was an incredible privilege to participate in discussions impacting all aspects of endocrinology around the world.
Boelaert: The Endocrine Society has been amazing. Following on from my going to the Mayo Clinic, I was on the committee that creates the Endocrine Self-Assessment Program (ESAP) product. Writing those questions was a lot of work, but it was very rewarding, and I met some amazing people. So, I suppose my links at the Mayo Clinic led to those opportunities.
Now, I’m on the Annual Meeting Steering Committee, where, again, I meet some amazing people who I may not have ever worked with otherwise. I’m also associate editor for the Journal of the Endocrine Society and have made some great friends there. So, the Endocrine Society has broadened my horizons and has also given me a number of very nice speaking opportunities at meetings. I’m very proud to be a member of the Endocrine Society, but I’m also very grateful to them.
Cardozo: A major one. I became a Future Leaders Advancing Research in Endocrinology (FLARE) fellow during my endocrinology fellowship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Teresa Woodruff is my FLARE mentor. I am still in contact with Woodruff; I still share my fears, successes, and life challenges with her via email. The FLARE program believed in me during a critical moment in my career. I am a better physician, scientist, and person because I took the right opportunity at the right time. That is the FLARE program, the right program at the right time.
The ENDO meeting is one of my “home meetings;” it is extraordinary to go to a meeting where you can get the most relevant clinical updates as well as the latest discoveries in science. That is unique.
Until recently, I was a member of the Patient Advocacy Committee. That was a transformative experience. I felt my voice was amplified for my patients’ benefit, a different sense of accomplishment that was amazing to experience. I am proud to have used my voice to advocate to reduce the cost of insulin for our patients, among other critical changes in favor of our patients.
Pinto: The Endocrine Society has provided opportunities for networking, collaboration, recognition from colleagues, and future career prospects.
Vella: I had a mentor who was a member of the Endocrine Society, and that was my gateway in. I’m so glad it was the Endocrine Society because it’s such a great organization. I’ve been on three committees now, chaired a committee, won travel grant awards for my abstracts . . . . The Endocrine Society has been awesome — my career would have been much different without it. I wouldn’t have found my voice; I wouldn’t be as assertive.
I’ve also found great friends through the Endocrine Society. We work on very different things, but it’s a nice support group.
EN: What advice would you give to female endocrinologists just starting their careers? To women considering entering the field?
Kaiser: It’s a great field, and there are still so many unanswered questions. But it’s a clinical field that suffers a little in terms of the value given to it as an evaluation and management specialty as opposed to the procedure-oriented specialties. I think it’s unfortunate that people don’t recognize the importance of disease prevention — for example, managing diabetes to prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce the number of procedures that patients might otherwise need. So, to women choosing endocrinology as their field, my advice is to advocate for the importance of the field and the recognition of the value that we provide to our patients and to medical care.
In terms of career development, lean in: be confident and advocate for yourself.
Wysham: This is a great field that has a lot to offer women. Clinically, the demand is so high that the wages are increasing, and many systems are willing to be more flexible in work hours, which is important to many (and not just women, but particularly women).
Visser: Get involved in a society, whether it’s the Endocrine Society or the European Society of Endocrinology, which is the other hat I wear. There are a lot of volunteer opportunities, small and large. Because of the additional training you get, you learn how to network and collaborate with others. Learning how to work with different personalities will help you later, for instance, if you become a group leader in academia or in industry. You will work with a diverse team on many levels. It also teaches you where your interest is. Start small; stay true to yourself.
Onumah: Endocrinology is a challenging but very gratifying specialty. It is the perfect blend of science and critical thinking. There are many career paths to choose from. As a clinical endocrinologist, I appreciate the long-term patient–physician relationships, which make practicing this specialty very rewarding. Particularly for women considering this field, endocrinology is a specialty that allows you to tailor your work-life and schedule to the different phases of life.
Gore: Network as much as possible, identify those people whose ideas and philosophies resonate with yours, and build a mentorship team.
“In terms of challenges of being a woman, I don’t think that way. Obviously, differences do exist — I know there is a glass ceiling, particularly for women who have children, and returning to a career after a break is more difficult — but, for me personally, I don’t like to think there are.”Jenny A Visser, PhD, associate professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Wu: Surround yourself with a support network, and use every opportunity to lift each other higher.
Boelaert: My advice is, go for it. It’s an amazing specialty and very rewarding. It’s very academic, which can provide challenges, but mainly provides opportunities and broadens your horizon. Knowing a lot of research makes you a better doctor not just because you give information to patients, but you can also learn from patients about what’s important to them. I think this is a very friendly and accommodating specialty — most of the people I’ve met are all very approachable and supportive.
Like I’ve said, I’ve had the good fortune of having inspiring role models. I see in many other specialties that sometimes people can be self-important and self-centered, but because some of these endocrinologic conditions are quite rare, if you want reasonable patient cohorts and materials, you need collaboration and team science. So, it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy that endocrinology attracts such nice people. It lends itself to collaboration, and, similarly, a lot of it is reliant on the collection of real-world data and the analysis of large databases.
Cardozo: To those who are just starting: I doubted myself a lot during my first years of practice. Endocrinology is a complex specialty; those feedback mechanisms are complicated! And sometimes difficult to remember. Embrace the unknown. Challenge the dogma, the current concept. Every patient is different, and remember that guidelines are there to guide you, not give you orders. Ask for help; this skill I had to learn, and I am still learning. Build your village, and take care of it. Take care of yourself, and love yourself unconditionally.
To those considering entering: Do it!!
Pinto: Is this your passion? Go ahead. Please, have self-respect, make the most of your time and develop the skills that are challenging you in the development of your career. Stay on top of technology, trends, etc. Don’t worry about quantity but about the quality of your work. Impact depends on the value you create.
Vella: Endocrinology is a female-friendly area of medicine, and there are more women than men entering the field. Find your mentors; never stop looking for them. Anyone can be a mentor. Peer-to-peer mentorship, for example, is invaluable. The Endocrine Society has also been helpful, providing interactions with people at all levels. So, utilize your professional society because they have people whose roles are to facilitate building relationships. It’s not a solo science anymore; you have to have a professional work team but also a support team.
EN: What is next for you in endocrinology?
Kaiser: I’m very happy with where my career has taken me and with what I’m doing now. So, I’d say that what’s next for me is trying to leave a good legacy and helping to train the next generation of scientists, particularly physician-scientists.
Wysham: For me, what’s next in endocrinology is more of the same, and, perhaps in addition, working on pipeline, mentorship, and education.
Visser: My group is still growing. We’re in transition to a new governance structure at our department, so I’m really focused on strengthening collaboration between my clinical colleagues and doing important translational science to have an impact for patients. For instance, our research can contribute to which patients are eligible for the new obesity drugs. Also, I hope we’ll get closer to understanding the etiology of PCOS. How can we contribute so that the clinician can provide better care? That’s where we’ll be going in the next three to five years. And who knows what’s in line for me at the Endocrine Society as well — I love to stay involved because it’s been quite a fun route so far.
Onumah: I hope to continue the things that I enjoy the most about endocrinology, which are taking care of patients and teaching students, residents, and fellows.
“Female patients value being listened to, and I feel that, as a woman, I am more adept at listening to the patient, acknowledging their concerns, and discussing the likelihood of an endocrine explanation for their symptoms.”Carol H. Wysham, MD, immediate past-president, Endocrine Society; clinical endocrinologist and diabetologist, Rockwood Clinic, MultiCare Health System, Spokane, Wash.; clinical professor of medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.
Wu: I recently became the first woman and the first minority to serve as division chief of endocrinology at Stanford. I am excited about the opportunity to support and grow our clinical, research, education, and community outreach missions here in the coming years.
Boelaert: Next for me are some leadership roles: I’m about to become president of the British Thyroid Association, and I have just taken up the post of chair of the clinical committee of the British Endocrine Society. We’re also about to start a big U.K.-centered trial on radiofrequency ablation of thyroid nodules from a National Health Service perspective, which often is a lot about health economics and cost effectiveness.
I then have several projects looking at weight gain in patients getting treatment for hyperthyroidism and what the implications are.
I do hope that at some point I’ll have some more leadership roles within the Endocrine Society and within other societies.
Cardozo: Next for me is continuing to grow as a physician-scientist, to make a difference “one patient at a time.”
Pinto: I will continue to work with more basic questions in pediatric adrenocortical tumorigenesis.
Vella: For now, navigating this transition. I don’t know what’s next, but I like where I am right now. I have these big ideas, but they aren’t fleshed out yet.
EN: What do you hope your legacy will be?
Kaiser: The Endocrine Society is such a valuable organization that has had a tremendous impact on my career and also on me as a person. I’ve made so many friends through both the Endocrine Society and Women in Endocrinology. So, I hope to help ensure that there continues to be support for women physician-scientists and to train the next generation of women leaders.
Wysham: Although I don’t think of a legacy much, probably the most important are our two children (oldest is 40), who have trained to be very capable, compassionate physicians in their own right. I have to say, to have my name listed along with many luminaries who have served as president of the Endocrine Society makes me proud.
Visser: I hope to have an impact on patients through our research contributions. I am a basic scientist, so getting more insight into mechanisms is very important, but then to translate those insights back to the clinic would be really nice. I’d also like to be a role model and say, “yes, you can make it in science.” I want to support students, and when they reflect back on their career, they remember how I helped them to grow more confidence or showed them that they have a particular passion. I want to pay it forward the way my mentors did for me. I quite like to supervise these students and postdocs, sharing any knowledge that I can pass on to the next generation.
Onumah: I would like to be remembered as a compassionate and caring human being.
“Endocrinology is a field that is predominantly women — at least currently there are more women going into endocrinology than men. … Having a lot of women in the field is nice because you have a peer group that have similar issues, challenges, and concerns as well as enjoyment from their career choice.”Ursula B. Kaiser, MD, president, Endocrine Society; chief, Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Hypertension; George W. Thorn, MD, Distinguished Chair in Endocrinology; director, Brigham Research Institute at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass.
Gore: I hope that all the great work being done on environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals by the community of endocrine researchers, clinicians, and advocates, of which I am a small part, will lead to safer food and water and better health and quality of life.
Wu: I hope I will be remembered as a champion for bone health, endocrinologists, physician-scientists, and women and underrepresented groups in medicine.
Boelaert: I have written a lot of guidelines for patients, so I do hope that some of that will be a legacy in what is seen as evidence-based care for patients and ideally an individualized patient-centric care model where one can actually make a difference to patients. I do a lot of work with patient organizations because I think that’s really important. I’m heavily involved with the British Thyroid Foundation, and I would like to be seen as someone improves patient care. I did a lot of laboratory research initially in my career, and I really liked that and what came out of that. It built the foundation of a program, which I am still involved with, albeit from the fringes. I’ve learned in my career that I like research that directly impacts patient care. I know it’s important that we understand the basis of diseases and what underlies it all, but I feel I’m better suited to things that may actually make a difference more quickly to patients. I hope I’m seen as a good endocrinologist who made a difference for patients, who did some important research, and who mentored people who had hurdles to overcome. I don’t have all the answers on how to do that, but I may have some.
Cardozo: In endocrinology, I hope that discoveries from my lab will help thousands of patients one day. As a physician and mom, I want to inspire my two girls to work hard and fight the “good fight.” Several years ago, I heard someone define success “as improving a human condition.” I want to live my life following that principle.
Pinto: I hope that when I look back, I can be proud of myself for all my accomplishments as a researcher. Not only my academic contribution but how hard it was to get here. How much commitment, dedication, patience, persistence, stress and so much passion… . I hope my legacy will be my values, memories, friendship, passion, and respect.
Vella: Part of it is, when they test drugs and medications, to remember that just because it works well in a man doesn’t mean it’s going to work well in a woman or in someone who’s not a white American. So, we need to think about inclusivity: inclusion in medicine, inclusion in science, inclusion in research. We need to make sure that drugs are developed with inclusive testing. That’s something I am very passionate about. I hope people know that I’m a champion for inclusivity.
Horvath is a freelance writer based in Baltimore, Md. In the January issue, she wrote the cover story on Transatlantic Alliance Award recipient George P. Chrousos, MD.