March 2020 Conference to Address the Health of Women and Girls in Rhode Island

Plans are underway for the inaugural state-wide Rhode Island Women’s Health Summit scheduled for March 13-14, 2020, at the Alpert Medical School, 222 Richmond Street, Providence, RI. The conference, titled Sex, Gender, Medical Research, and Our Community: Redefining Women’s Health in Rhode Island, is being held to address the need for local healthcare professionals, researchers, and educators to join with stakeholders across our state around the topic of promoting and improving health for women and girls in Rhode Island. The Summit will encompass aspects of women’s health that extend beyond the care of female-specific organs to address how gender-specific biology and behavior impact the overall health of women.

According to data from the United Health Foundation and Centers for Disease Control, Rhode Island boasts excellent rankings for certain health parameters relevant to women and girls. For example, in 2018, Rhode Island had the highest rates in the nation for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination among adolescent girls. With 77.8% reporting a yearly doctor’s visit, we also top the rankings of women ages 18-45 years who receive annual preventative care. Although these measures are promising, Rhode Island is in the bottom of the pack when it comes to other health indicators. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among RI women, and Ocean State women rank near the bottom nationally for several contributing risk factors including higher-than-national rates of hypertension at 31% (rank 19th highest) and lower-than-average rates of regular physical activity (34th lowest). Another alarming trend is the increasing number of deaths attributable to drugs: in 2019, there were an estimated 18.4 deaths due to drug injuries per 100,000 Rhode Island women, which is the 10th highest rate in the nation and represents a significant increase from 16.2 per 100,000 in 2018.

In addition to addressing these public health indicators, there is also a need to share knowledge about sex and gender differences in health and disease and discuss best practices for addressing common clinical concerns in women and girls. “The majority of current clinical practice is based on knowledge derived mostly from studies in men,” states Summit co-chair, Dr. Ghada Bourjeily, Professor of Medicine at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Director of Research at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative. “The latest research indicates that for several conditions, the physical, hormonal and behavioral differences between women and men should be taken into account when screening for disease and managing chronic conditions.”

The conference will kick off on Friday, March 13th at 5:00 pm with a keynote by Marianne J. Legato, MD, PhD, FACP, an innovator in the field of gender-specific medicine and Professor Emerita of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. “We were delighted that Dr. Legato accepted our invitation to open the conference,” says co-chair, Dr. Alyson J. McGregor, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at Alpert Medical School and the Co-Founder and Director for the Division of Sex and Gender in Emergency Medicine. “Dr Legato is considered the founder of the field of gender-specific medicine and a true pioneer of this area of science, and will provide our attendees a broad overview of how the field has evolved over time, and share what she predicts our biggest challenges and most promising opportunities will be in the future.”

A panel discussion moderated by Brown University President, Christina Paxson, will follow Dr. Legato’s keynote on Friday evening. Panelists –including Dawna Blake, MD, from the Providence VA Medical Center, Carrie Bridges Feliz, MPH from the RI Women’s Health Council, Kelly Nevins, MS, Director of the Women’s Fund of RI, Amy Nunn, ScD, MS, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Public Health Institute and Associate Professor at Brown University School of Public Health, and Adriana Vargas, BSW, Director of Community Relations at Providence Community Health Centers–will address the current status of women’s health in Rhode Island.

The conference will continue on Saturday, March 14, with a multidisciplinary program featuring faculty across a range of disciplines including medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, community health, and public health. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase the perspectives and research of so many talented members of our community whose scholarship is focused around women’s health,” states co-chair Katie Sharkey, MD, PhD, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Women in Medicine & Science at Alpert Medical School. “University of Rhode Island Pharmacy Professor, Kristina Ward, PharmD, BCPS, will speak about medication use and women’s health and Athena Poppas, MD, FACC, FASE, Chief of the Cardiology and Professor of Medicine at Alpert Medical School will discuss women’s heart health.” “We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to tap into the expertise of these renowned scholars who work right here in our community and look forward to bringing together a broad range of stakeholders with an interest in women’s health,” continues Dr. Sharkey. Adds Dr. Bourjeily, “Our goal is for this initial Summit to be so successful that it becomes a regular event so that we can continue to push for advances that will improve women’s and girls’ health throughout the state.”

If you are interested in attending the Rhode Island Women’s Health Summit, Sex, Gender, Medical Research, and Our Community: Redefining Women’s Health in Rhode Island, registration will open soon at the Brown University Office of Continuing Medical Education website: The conference is open to all with reduced rates for students and non-physician attendees. A variety of continuing educations credits will be offered.