“We Should All Be Advocates for Women’s Health”: A Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Garner on Investment in and Advocacy for Women’s Health

Dr. Elizabeth Garner, U.S. Chief Scientific Officer at Ferring Pharmaceuticals and the new President of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), has devoted her career to empowering women. Born and raised in Nigeria, Dr. Garner brings a global worldview to her work and is deeply committed to addressing the unsolved health issues that women face every day.

During her year-long tenure as AMWA President, Dr. Garner is hoping to encourage all of its physician-members to embrace their roles as women’s health advocates. Moreover, she is committed to building strong partnerships with organizations and groups, such as AWHP, to work together to increase investment in preventive solutions to women’s most serious health conditions.

This Women’s Health Month, we sat down with Dr. Garner to discuss her background in women’s health, the critical importance of prevention in women’s health, and her vision for her tenure as AMWA President.

AWHP: Tell us about yourself and your career journey. What motivated you to become a physician and to focus on women’s health?

EG: I was born and raised in Nigeria, the daughter of an American Peace Corps volunteer and a Nigerian engineer. I spent time here and there in the United States, but Nigeria was my home base through high school. After college, medical school, and a master’s in public health, I did a residency in obstetrics and gynecology and trained in gynecologic oncology, practiced for a few years, and then joined the industry 16 years ago. Since that time, I’ve worked for six companies, and have been lucky to work in the women’s health space the whole time.

My main interest is in addressing the conditions that women face every day — the ones that are the big killers — and for which we have very little to offer to women in terms of treatments and care options. I do that by being a strong advocate for more investment in women’s health. According to an article by McKinsey, in 2020, only one percent of the pharmaceutical industry’s $200 billion investment in health went toward women’s health. I’m committed to changing that.

AWHP: What do you see as the importance of prevention in women’s health care? Why, now more than ever, do you believe that it’s important for an organization focused on women’s preventive health to exist?

EG: If we focused more of our efforts on prevention, so many women’s health issues could be avoided, rather than fixed after they occur. For instance, the issue of maternal mortality is extremely serious, yet there is so much that could be done to avoid the vast majority of these deaths. We’ve only begun to understand how to avoid issues like pre-term delivery and pre-eclampsia, and how issues like stress and weathering affect a woman’s health during pregnancy. If we focused more on preventing them in the first place, we would save countless lives, as well as tremendous effort and resources.

If we continue to focus on identifying preventive solutions, like AWHP is doing as an organization, I see the entire landscape of women’s health changing very dramatically.

AWHP: As we turn a corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, what challenges or issues in health care still keep you up at night?

EG: The pandemic both exposed and exacerbated so many health disparities. I’m nervous, however, that we’re moving on from these revelations too quickly — that we won’t take the lessons that we’ve learned and implement solutions that remedy them. Now that we’re turning the corner on the pandemic, we can’t forget everything we’ve learned. Instead, we need to actually make sure that the lessons that we learned during the pandemic are absorbed and addressed. One area that I do see exciting momentum in, however, is diversity and representation in clinical trials.

AWHP: What was appealing to you about working with AMWA? What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure as its President?

EG: I’ve been working with AMWA as a general member and a Board Member for more than eight years. AMWA is a very unique physicians’ organization in that it’s smaller and not specialty-specific, which results in it being a more supportive, non-competitive environment. It’s truly an organization where people just want to work together and do good, and I felt that from the get-go. During my tenure as AMWA President, I’m hoping to relay the message that all physicians are working in women’s health, whether they realize it or not. In nearly every disease area, health conditions manifest differently in women than they do in men. As such, any physician who works with women is a so-called “women’s health specialist.” I think that AMWA has the opportunity to greatly expand its impact as an organization when we all realize that fact, and realize that we should all be advocates for women’s health.

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