When we started working on FemInEM, we knew there were already all these great articles written for women (and men) in EM on leadership, work-life balance, clinical care and various other topics. We created a catalog of these pieces, and along with permission of the author, we sometimes re-purpose an article so that the original content can reach a larger audience.
We wanted to publish a piece this week titled “Push Ups and Pull Ups- New Approaches to Leadership Development.” This article was originally published in the AAWEP Newsletter in 2012. We attempted to contact Dr. Linda Brodsky, an pediatric ENT surgeon, for permission since she was the article’s original author. Since Dr. Brodsky was an ENT, not an EM doctor, none of us on the editorial board knew her personally. Unfortunately, we found out that Dr. Brodsky passed away in 2014 at age 61. We also discovered that she was a mentor and leader for all women in medicine who set the tone and space for communities like FemInEM years ahead of our time.
Born May 25, 1952 in Long Island, New York, Linda graduated from Bryn Mawr College with honors in 1974 and then medical school at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, now Drexel University. She completed her residency in Ear, Nose and Throat surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY.
Dr. Brodsky went to Buffalo in 1983 to take a full-time position at Women & Children’s Hospital, where she later became director of the Center for Pediatric Otolaryngology and Communication Disorders. She was also a full-time faculty member in the University at Buffalo Medical School. She published a number of award-winning papers and earned the title of Tenured Full Professor of Otolaryngology and Pediatrics at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine–one of only 12 women to have achieved this ranking at the time. She authored or co-authored over 100 scientific papers in peer reviewed journals and 27 book chapters. Her book on pediatric swallowing and feeding disorders, Pediatric Swallowing and Feeding: Assessment and Management, is a classic in the field. She was one of the few Buffalo-based members of the Triological Society, an elite organization that only admits the most academically accomplished ENT surgeons.
Linda introduced the “Brodsky Classification” of tonsillar disease, a diagnostic tool used around the world. She was Primary Investigator or Co-Investigator in over 2 million dollars of industry and federally funded research. She served on the editorial boards of several pediatric ENT journals, including The International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, Acta Otolaryngologica and The Journal of Respiratory Diseases. She was an invited keynote speaker and visiting professor at many national meetings and academic departments of otolaryngology. She served on the boards of the ENT section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Ear, Nose and Throat Advances in Children (SENTAC) and the American Society for Pediatric Otolaryngology.
Linda summed up her professional accomplishments in an ebook, “Only She Who Attempts the Absurd Can Achieve the Impossible.” The eBook chronicles her journey from aspiring female student to advocate for women in medicine. It is written in a humorous tone but the content is critically important for all of us to read.
In 1996, Dr. Brodsky became a tenured full professor of otolaryngology and pediatrics, the first woman to achieve that honor in the UB Medical School’s surgical department. In her journey there she mentored scores of residents and researchers, half of whom were women. She applied for the chair position more than once and, despite being a highly qualified faculty member in the department, she was repeatedly passed over for promotion. It was at this time that she also discovered she was making less than half than her (less senior) male colleagues in the department of Otolaryngology. She also discovered that male (less senior) surgeons in other departments were making up to 5 times her salary. The culture at her workplace seemed to go from unsupportive to intolerable.
Linda was fired from UB in 1998 and filed a gender discrimination lawsuit. Dr. Brodsky spent eight years on her lawsuit. She filed numerous charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with several claims in Federal Court, State Supreme Court and Appellate Court and was a party to at least five union grievances against UB. The lawsuits were settled “to the satisfaction of all parties” however the terms of the settlement are confidential.
The direct result of Dr. Brodsky’s actions helped change compensation for all clinical faculty at the four SUNY medical schools. But in 2005, she was dismissed as director of the Center for Pediatric Quality at Women & Children’s Hospital and two years later she was fired as director of Pediatric Otolaryngology, prompting her to file more gender discrimination lawsuits.
She won settlement against both her employers and became president of Pediatric Ear Nose and Throat Associates, with offices in Amherst and Lancaster. As she said in her book “As I listen to so many women’s stories of injustice and their difficulties in dealing with the legal system, I am convinced that equality will never be realized as long as the victim as to police the system, be the whistleblower and then spend an average of 10 years navigating a complicated legal system at great personal and financial cost.”
In true FOAMed fashion Dr. Brodsky founded Women MD Resources, a site very similar to FemInEM. She also advocated for more flexible schedules for physicians, more humane guidelines for medical residents and more women in executive positions.
Dr. Roberta Gebhard, Dr. Brodsky’s co-chair on the AMWA Gender Equity Task Force, remembers her fondly. “Linda and I got to know each other when she found out about my termination from the university, the 9th woman to be fired in my department without cause. She was in the middle of her case, and met me in a call room in a hospital that I was moonlighting as a house doctor, and we spent the night sharing our stories while she frantically took notes on her MacBook. She agreed to join me in starting the America Medical Women’s Association Gender Equity Task Force.
She was the most dependable professional that I ever worked with, never promised anything that she couldn’t deliver, and the only times I sat on a conference call meeting alone was when she was on a surgical emergency that she was not sure that she would be done in time.”
Linda is survived by her her husband of 34 years, Dr. Saul Greenfield and her 3 children, Jeremy, Dana (currently an MD/PhD candidate at UCSF) and Rebecca.