Each February 3rd, we celebrate National Women Physicians Day, which marks the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician in the United States, and creates an intentional opportunity to honor the service and the accomplishments of female physicians everywhere. At Upstream, we have the privilege of working with many impressive female physicians, whose leadership and commitment to expanding access to contraceptive care makes our work possible. This National Women’s Physicians Day we want to recognize one of our own partners, Dr. Molly Parker, Chief Medical Officer at Jefferson Healthcare.
Her work at Jefferson Healthcare focuses on the health of a whole population and looks for gaps or ways to improve the health of an entire community. We encourage you to check out some highlights from a recent conversation we had with Dr. Parker, who shares some of her background in medicine, as well as her experiences working with the Upstream team.
Q: Can you share more about your background in medicine and what led you to become a family medicine physician?
A: I did my training at the University of Washington. I actually did my Masters in Public Health before I went to the University of Washington for medical school. From there, I went on to do my residency at Swedish, which is a hospital in Seattle, and then I did an OB [obstetrics] fellowship there as well. My masters was in Maternal and Child Health, so it fit in with family medicine. In my practice right now, I’m 50% family medicine, where I deliver and take care of babies and also care for adults. The other 50% of my job is in population health. I’m the CMO [Chief Medical Officer] of population health care for Jefferson Healthcare.
Q: What made you choose to go into the medical field?
A: Well, it wasn’t my first career. I had my degree in Biology and French and was certified to teach high school. And then I did bench research in molecular biology at the University of Washington for a number of years, where I began thinking about medicine. Even then, I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the time and lifestyle commitment to it. What ultimately drew me to medicine was really the individual interactions and being able to be present at key moments in people’s lives—to be able to participate and have the honor of hearing people’s stories.
Q: As a family medicine physician, how does contraceptive care factor into your work?
A: It’s key, especially since I work with a lot of babies. I look at contraception as the basis of someone’s autonomy and someone’s health. Choosing when to create a family, it’s crucial. When that doesn’t happen at the right time, it can be devastating. I see those outcomes over time as I take care of multiple generations and I can see how challenging and stressful it can be for someone who has a child at a time when they weren’t ready—and difficult for the rest of the family as well.
Q: How did Jefferson Healthcare’s partnership with Upstream begin? What challenges or obstacles were you hoping to overcome?
A: It was really fortuitous—I think we just happened to run across the program. My colleague met someone from Upstream at some point and asked me if I thought it would be useful for the clinics. The program sounded really intriguing and I think as we learned more, it just made a lot of sense to smooth out our systems and make them more consistent in order to provide that access to birth control. Part of the problem in primary care and medicine anywhere, is that people come in with an urgent need and that’s the fire for the day. That’s what you focus on. And if that’s the only reason they keep coming in, we don’t get a chance to do preventive work or talk about big picture goals. Upstream is helping us create systems to ensure that we’re checking in on those needs that may not feel like a fire at the moment, but play a big role in your health.
Lifting up the hard work and arduous path that women physicians have paved is important, and learning about their achievements and challenges can inspire current and future generations of female physicians. We are immensely grateful for our partnership with Dr. Molly Parker and the entire Jefferson Healthcare team and we are excited to continue to work together to deliver patient-centered contraceptive care at their health centers.