Celebrating National Women's History Month
Sarah J. Kilpatrick, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Obstettrics and Gynecology
How are you making an impact on science?
Even though the U.S. has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among the world's wealthiest countries, the number of women who die is small. That makes it a hard issue to study and to understand what we need to do to improve. The team I worked with in Chicago before I came to Cedars-Sinai recognized that there are a lot more women who suffer severe maternal morbidity—they get really sick, but survive. So, we thought, "What if we figure out how to identify those women and study them to look for things that could have done been done better?”
Based on that thinking, we published a number of papers. We concluded that the most efficient method would be to look at pregnant or postpartum women who went to an ICU because they were so sick. We also looked at women who received four or more units of blood, which is a sign of hemorrhage, a big cause of bad pregnancy outcomes. We published data showing that these women had similar diagnoses as the women who died, and we published data on preventability. Our metric has been picked up nationally, and it’s used to encourage hospitals to review these cases. We helped start the trend of looking at preventability.
What leadership advice would you give to your younger self?
Take the time to develop professional relationships and understand the current status of things before you push for change, because to make change, you need people to work with you. I'm a very impatient person, and that works well in some settings. My personality is, I just want to get something done. I just want to fix it. But what I've learned over the years is that being a little more patient, and getting to know people and pulling them into your goals, will make the ultimate change better and more accepted.
Who is your favorite science heroine from history, and why?
Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. I think is she is underappreciated. In 1849, she became the first woman to receive an M.D. degree from an American medical school. That's what people know and remember but, the reality is, that's just the first thing she did that was remarkable. It was very hard for her to get into a practice because no one trusted a woman physician. So she ultimately ended up renting a room in a house and started her own practice. Eight years after becoming a doctor, she started the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. It was the first hospital that was run completely by women. After that, she and two other women doctors started the first medical school for women, which was ultimately absorbed into New York University. The persistence and the resilience that she possessed to do all of that is pretty amazing and inspiring.