Dr. Bon Ku is the Assistant Dean for Health and Design and an associate professor at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. He is a practicing emergency medicine physician and the founder and director of JeffDESIGN. Bon has spoken widely on the intersection of health and design thinking, and he serves on the Design and Health Leadership Group at the American Institute of Architects.
“…The responsibility to reduce gender bias should not fall upon solely upon women. Women and men should be equal partners for championing gender balance in healthcare…”
Emergency departments are the safety net of US healthcare
Growing up as an immigrant in several large cities in the US, I saw first-hand some of the challenges of the poor. One of them is limited access to healthcare. I saw medicine as an opportunity to reduce the disparities of communities in underserved areas.
I chose the speciality of emergency medicine because we deliver care to all patients regardless of their ability to pay. We are the only speciality in the US that is mandated by federal law to provide medical care. This is why emergency departments end up being the safety net of our healthcare system.
I love my job
Every day is unique. I can go from working a clinical shift in the emergency department to running a design workshop for medical students to collaborating with architects on how to redesign spaces. That’s why I love my job.
The importance of linking health and design thinking
JeffDESIGN is the first design thinking programme in a medical school. The programme teaches future doctors to apply creative problem solving in healthcare. Design thinking gives doctors another tool in their toolbox to fix complex problems.
Empathy is critical to driving innovation in health care. We cannot create novel solutions unless we have a deep understanding of the end users’ point of view.
Frustrated by entrenched gender norms in healthcare
During a shift in the Emergency Department, I started asking female physicians about how often their patients mistaken them for being nurses. I knew this was a common occurrence but I was surprised by how often this happened. Some female doctors even stated that they were more surprised when patients correctly identified them as a physician. My colleagues were not offended by this mistake but rather they were frustrated by the entrenched gender norms that exist in our society.
I suspected that this was not a unique phenomenon so I shared this on Twitter and women from literally around the world shared own their stories of gender bias in healthcare.
Gender bias in healthcare (based on my unscientific observations):
Male doctor mistaken for a nurse: Never
Male nurse mistaken for a doctor: Often
Female nurse mistaken for a doctor: Never
Female doctor mistaken for a nurse: Every shift, multiple times
— Bon Ku, MD, MPP (@BonKu) October 23, 2017
In order to break down gender stereotypes, we need more women in leadership positions in healthcare. We have made significant strides in medicine in this area but we can do a lot more, especially in having more female leaders.
Championing gender balance
The responsibility to reduce gender bias should not fall upon solely upon women. Women and men should be equal partners for championing gender balance in healthcare. Practically, men can support their female colleagues by first being aware of the major challenges and picking one of them to work on.
Designing healthy spaces for working mothers
I have been working with architects to promote the inclusion of lactation rooms as best practice for designing healthy spaces. Last year at the national conference for the American Institute of Architects, I spoke on the need for nursing working mothers to have spaces to pump breastmilk. How can we be promoting health if we can’t provide decent and convenient lactation rooms for doctors and nurses with new born children?