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WOEMA Celebrates Native American Heritage Month


November is Native American Heritage Month, also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. WOEMA honors the important and myriad contributions of Native people and celebrates their rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories. This is also an opportunity to recognize the historic and current challenges that Native people have faced and strived to overcome.

There are currently 6.7 million Native Americans in the US and 22% live on dedicated tribal land. As sovereign nations, Native tribes have inherent authority to protect the public health and welfare of their citizens and thus to promote occupational safety and health using methods most appropriate for their communities. The Navajo Nation exercised this authority by implementing a highly successful vaccination program among the Diné (Navajo).

Historically, Native populations in the US have faced greater physical and mental health disparities and higher uninsured rates compared with the non-Native population. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Native communities experienced a disproportionately large adverse financial and health impact, despite such success as high vaccination rates on the Navajo Nation. Having a diverse physician workforce is critical to meeting health care needs in underserved communities. However, efforts to diversify medicine with and for Native Americans are lacking, according to a study, and need to be improved.

Read about a few influential and inspiring individuals from Native communities below.

Disability Employment Awareness Month


National Disability Employment Month (NDEAM) is celebrated each October under the direction of the Department of Labor. The month commemorates the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy.

The theme for NDEAM 2021, “America’s Recovery: Powered by Inclusion,” reflects the importance of ensuring that people with disabilities have full access to employment and community involvement during the national recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 was transformative in making discrimination illegal against citizens with disabilities; it also paved the way for physical accommodations such as ramps and restrooms which we now take for granted.

People who are disabled are now finding themselves more and more enabled thanks to 21st century technology. Enabling devices such as smart phones, computer-assisted artificial limbs, power wheelchairs, audio and visual devices, voice to text and countless other modalities were only dreams when the ADA was enacted 31 years ago.

As Occupational and Environmental Medicine professionals, let us this month renew our commitment to enhancing the lives of our patients, colleagues, and loved ones with disabilities. For ideas on how to support and promote NDEAM, visit

Dying to Work: Hispanic Heritage Month


WOEMA’s commitment to, and advocacy for, Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) are in total alignment with the three foundational pillars of our organization: Leadership, Service, and Education.

As WOEMA recognizes and celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15—October 15), let us examine how current events affect the Latinx work force. There is no more appropriate place to begin that conversation than on the disparities in healthcare brought by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the California Department of Public Health, as of September 16, 2021, Latinos (as defined by CDPH) accounted for 53.6% of all COVID-19 cases, but represented 38.9% of California’s total population. Whites on the other hand accounted for 22.3% of cases and 36.6% of the total population.

Similar trends in disparities are seen for total COVID-19 deaths where Latinos account for 45.9% and Whites account for 31.8% of confirmed deaths.

The data for cases by age is overwhelmingly skewed toward young adults where 57.2% of cases are in the age group 18-49.  While the 18-49 age bracket accounts for only 7.4% of deaths, the data clearly reflect the incredible burden of cases in this age group as they represent the bulk of the working population in California.

The COVD-19 pandemic tore through the Latinx community, as noted in a study led by Stanford University researchers. During the pandemic the face of the frontline worker in California was more often than not a Latinx face. Unfortunately, the lack of resources available to this community during the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the disparities that exist for the working poor. Issues of food security during the COVID-19 pandemic became more prominent in the Latinx community. How does a worker quarantine if they share a two bedroom apartment with three other families? What happens to the family, living paycheck to paycheck, when the sole wage-earner cannot work because they have to quarantine or fall ill?

Frontline’s exposé on the COVID-19 outbreak at a California meat processing plant and at a produce processing plant at the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the pressures essential Latinx workers faced and the exposure to the unsafe working conditions that lead to the outbreak. Notably, California’s Division of Occupational Health and Safety (Cal/OSHA) issued a citation and penalty to one of the subjects of Frontline’s exposé. 

According to the 2020 Census, the Latinx population grew 23% since 2010, while the non-Latinx population grew by 4.3%. The Latinx community has become an increasingly larger component of the work force in Arizona, California, and Nevada. WOEMA members are in ideal roles to advocate for these workers when work-related illnesses and injuries expose disparities.  Become more involved with WOEMA’s JEDI advocacy efforts and help to minimize and eliminate disparities and biases in occupational and environmental medicine.

WOEMA Acknowledges LGBTQ+ Pride Month 2021


With approval from the WOEMA Board of Directors, the WOEMA Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee has defined diversity in terms of age, race and ethnicity, gender identification, sexual preference, disability, and religion. In keeping with JEDI principles, WOEMA acknowledges Pride Month.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (LGBTQ+) Pride Month is celebrated annually in June and aims to promote equal justice and equal opportunity for those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ+).

In June 1969, in what is now termed the 1969 Stonewall uprising, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City staged an uprising to resist the police harassment and persecution commonly experienced by people who identified as LGBT. These protests were led largely by transgender women of color and marked the beginning of a movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against those who identify as LGBTQ+.

While today’s Pride movement originated half a century ago, the fight for health equity within the medical field continues today. In a national survey, medical students of color and those who are LGBTQ+ reported a higher prevalence of mistreatment during their training.1 In another survey, current medical residents and graduates of residency programs also reported perceived discrimination.2 The American Medical Association (AMA) supports equity for LGBTQ+ patients and physicians.3

WOEMA stands in solidarity with members of the LGBTQ+ community, including patients and health care providers. We are committed to developing an inclusive environment within our organization and protecting the fundamental rights of this underserved community, including access to health care.

We invite you to learn more about the LGBTQ+ Pride issues by exploring the following resources:

WOEMA Honors Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


This month, WOEMA’s JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) Committee commemorates Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, an annual celebration of the diverse history, cultures, and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans and their contributions to society. Members of AAPI communities speak more than 100 languages, practice many religions, and represent more than 50 ethnic groups. The term AAPI encompasses people with vastly different countries of origin, including Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, Vietnam, Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga.

AAPI workers, many of who are immigrants, make up a large portion of essential workers on the frontlines, including in the food supply chain, education, and the biomedical field. The AAPI population is overrepresented in healthcare, especially in WOEMA states.  AAPI workers make up the highest share of the healthcare workforce in Hawaii (71.6 %), California (26.3 %), and Nevada (19.0 %).1 

As we celebrate their significant contributions to the workforce, we also acknowledge that AAPI communities suffer from disproportionately high COVID death rates and hospitalizations.2  Moreover, the medical community has not been immune to the recent rise in hate crimes against AAPI communities.3 In a recent email to members, WOEMA denounced these hate crimes and other acts of racism and discrimination.

We invite you to join us this month in honoring all workers who identify as being part of the AAPI community, from leaders in science and public health to essential workers at the frontlines of various sectors of our society. 

1 Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans on the Frontlines - New American Economy Research Fund

2COVID-19 Racial Disparities in Testing, Infection, Hospitalization, and Death: Analysis of Epic Patient Data – Issue Brief – 9530 | KFF

3 Resident Physician Experiences With and Responses to Biased Patients | Health Disparities | JAMA Network Open | JAMA Network

WOEMA Celebrates International Women's History Month


This month, we invite you to join us and the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) Committee as we honor Women’s History Month, an annual celebration of historical and current contributions of women to society. The commemoration began in 1978 as "Women's History Week" in Sonoma County, California, and is now celebrated as a month nationally and internationally.

Well before Women’s History Month was a concept, March 8 was celebrated as International Women’s Day (#InternationalWomensDay). This commemoration has particular relevance to our specialty as it originated from labor movements in North America and Europe during the early 20th century. International Women’s Day commemorates the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women and brings attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women. The 2021 United Nations theme for International Women's Day is "Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world," highlighting the impact that girls and women worldwide had as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, and community organizers during the COVID-19 pandemic (#IWD2021).

In celebrating Women’s History Month, we salute the scores of women in medicine, science, and technology who have improved workplaces and the lives of workers and improved the course of the future. Closer to home, we also honor the women who have served as Presidents of WOEMA and thank them for being our mentors and role models.

Past WOEMA Women Presidents:

Bernyce Peplowski, DO, MS, FACOEM
Ellyn McIntosh, MD, MPH, FACOEM
Leslie Israel, DO, MPH, FACOEM
Susan Tierman, MD
Pam Hymel, MD, MPH, FACOEM
Donna Baytop, MD, FACOEM
Jean Chapman, MD
Elizabeth Gresch, MD

WOEMA Features Dr. Donna Baytop in Honor of Black History Month 2021


Dr. Donna Baytop is an inspiration, mentor, and survivor who has confronted life’s challenges by meeting them head-on.

She recently retired from her roles as Regional Medical Director for Caterpillar Inc. and Worldwide Medical Director for Solar Turbines, positions she held for nearly 35 years. She remains very busy in retirement, serving as a member of the Residency Advisory Peer Review Committee for the General Preventive Medicine residency at the University of California, San Diego. She also serves on the national board of the University of Florida Foundation and is on the Board of Directors for the Ebony Pearls Foundation that serves the San Diego community. Dr. Baytop earned a Bachelor's degree in pharmacy at the Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy, now known as the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Institute of Public Health. She received her MD degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine and completed her residency in Family Medicine at the University of Connecticut, with an emphasis on urban family medicine, preventive health programming, community health programs, and primary secondary health education and community-wide screening to underserved populations in the Hartford region.

Career as an Occupational Medicine Physician

Dr. Baytop was introduced to Occupational Medicine when she was offered an opportunity in employee health services as an assistant medical director at an insurance company, Connecticut General. Rather than being in an administrative position typical for insurance carriers, she worked in a clinic that provided health maintenance exams, routine preventive medical care, and employee health services to 7,500 company employees. The clinic had 72 beds, an OB/Gyn clinic, eye clinic, physical therapy, clinical laboratory, radiology, and dental services among others. It was eye-opening as she realized that a medical department could be operated inside a company to serve its employees.

Dr. Baytop was then recruited to San Diego by Solar Turbines and asked to design an occupational medicine program in-house. She remained with the company throughout her long career, almost unimaginable today, for three reasons. First, because she was able to effectively practice preventive medicine. Additionally, she was supported by senior management and encouraged to be innovative, expand ideas, and try out new concepts in delivering occupational medicine. Finally, she was able to make sure that people came first and safety was paramount. Dr. Baytop was able to make significant differences in international operations by implementing protocols and collaborating with local health care providers.

Making a Difference

Throughout her career, Dr. Baytop has given back to communities and helped minority physicians in medicine. As a medical student at the University of Florida, Dr. Baytop helped to develop a summer studies program that outlined and addressed challenges faced by minority medical students entering medical school so that they would be fully prepared to hit the ground running in the fall when they entered medical school. She remains proud of that program, which lasted for 16 years after she graduated from medical school. In 2014, Dr. Baytop received her alma mater’s highest honor when she was named to the University of Florida College of Medicine Hall of Fame.

Throughout her career she faced situations “that a professional would love to have. You know, you get that interesting case or you get an opportunity to help someone that you didn't realize, and the resources are made available that allow you to be helpful and occupational medicine makes a difference.”

Making a difference in individual workers’ lives left lasting memories. Dr. Baytop recalls one pregnant worker who went into preterm labor in Angola, the second poorest country outside of Haiti at that time. Dr. Baytop was successful at arranging an air ambulance to airlift the pregnant worker to a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the worker was supported for six weeks, allowing her to give birth to a healthy baby girl. Four years later, Dr. Baytop ran into the worker at an airport in Dubai and saw a picture of the baby, by then four years old. She describes the experience as a “reward beyond comprehension."

Career Challenges

Dr. Baytop’s successful career was no easy ride. Her greatest challenge is what she termed “the perception of reality,” meaning that other people’s expectations of our behavior are defined by the way they perceive us. In Dr. Baytop’s case, she explains that “the reality is that I'm an African-American woman and a physician.” She felt that while African-American women are expected to deal with stereotypes that they encounter and be limited by them, she never gave in to others’ expectations. “I always did the opposite,” she says, adding “that's that protest spirit in me.” She gives an example of when she interviewed for a spot in a residency program and was asked what she would do if a white patient did not want to be seen by her as a black doctor, a question that most would find unacceptable today. Instead of answering, she managed to get the questioner to disclose their own bias and made the residency program director aware of the inappropriate question. A “white physician stands up in the morning, doesn't think about getting a question regarding whether or not they will be resisted because of the color of their skin.”

Dr. Baytop challenged not only racial stereotypes but gender discrimination as well. When she began her residency, all women scrubbing into surgery, whether nurses or residents, were required to wear a dress smock. She refused to do so and, much to the delight of the female nurses, was successful in changing the dress code for everyone, males and females alike, to gender-neutral scrub pants.

Role Models

Dr. Baytop’s credits her family for being her primary mentors and role models. The youngest of seven, she has highly accomplished and professionally successful older brothers and sisters who were both resilient and talented. Her father became a pro golfer at the age of 18 in 1927, a year after Black History week was dedicated by Carter G. Woodson. She also recalls her mother saying that “tough things are given to tough people, because they know you [sic] can solve it,” encouraging her and preparing her to face life’s challenges.

Changes in Occupational Medicine

Dr. Baytop has been a WOEMA member for 35 years and over the years her colleagues have become her “go-to resource to help stimulate new ideas, new innovations, maintain the state of the art, the highest level of excellence in the practice of occupational medicine.” She is a past president of WOEMA as well as a past WOHC chair. WOEMA first developed its website during the year she was president, in the late 1990s. Occupational Medicine has changed a great deal since Dr. Baytop first joined WOEMA and entered the field, primarily for the better. The shift has been away from corporate medical directors to smaller in-house collaborative teams and outsourcing occupational medicine services. Doctors now must be trained in business practices and need to be innovative in the delivery of occupational medicine services, remaining aware that the patient is not just an individual but part of “an entire social and workplace history.”

Dr. Baytop advises medical students and residents today to spend time “developing who you are and what you want out of the profession that you’re looking to go into. What is it you want to focus on? Then endeavor to do your training in such a way that you get the most out of those who are professors or professional or educational mentors who are offering advice as such. Seek them out and look for them.” This next generation of physicians, she feels will enhance the impact of occupational medicine by harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence, collaboration, and creative entrepreneurship, rather than striving for the few remaining corporate medicine positions.

Black History Month

For Dr. Baytop, Black History Month commemorates the racism, discrimination, and other injustices that a lot of people have experienced over hundreds of years. And it also illustrates the positives: people are resilient and can overcome the obstacles placed in front of them. As we navigate this new age, she advises us to never accept the status quo and always ask the five whys. As we ask those questions, we resolve to make things better for everyone.

Listen to the entire fascinating interview of Dr. Baytop here and subscribe to WOEMA's Podcast Series so you never miss an episode.

WOEMA Honors Black History Month


This month, join us and the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) Committee as we honor Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans, and an occasion to recognize their central role in shaping the nation.

In February 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson announced the creation of Negro History Week, which would eventually be celebrated as Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month. Since 1976, every American president has designated February as Black History Month and endorsed a specific theme. You are encouraged to learn more about the 2021 theme, “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” which explores the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States.

In honor of Black History Month, we highlight several pioneering physicians with ties to public health or public service:

Alexander Augusta, MD. First black physician appointed director of a U.S. hospital. Alexander Augusta earned his medical degree at Trinity Medical College in Toronto, Canada, and established a successful medical practice in Canada before relocating to the U.S. in 1862. Drafted to serve in the Civil War, Dr. Augusta became the first commissioned black surgeon in the U.S. Army. He later became the first black physician to direct a U.S. hospital — Freedman's Hospital in Washington D.C. After leaving Freedman's, Dr. Augusta continued in private practice and became a professor at Howard University Medical Department in Washington D.C

Donna Christian-Christensen, MD. First female physician elected to Congress. Representing the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. Christian-Christensen is the first female physician to serve as an elected member of Congress. She earned her medical degree from George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., in 1970 and completed her residency in family medicine at Howard University Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Christian-Christensen is currently serving her fourth consecutive term in Congress. She served as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus's Health Braintrust in 1998, an advocacy group that leads efforts to oversee and advocate for minority health issues on national and international platforms.

Joycelyn Elders, MD. First black female physician appointed surgeon general. Born to a family of impoverished farmers in 1933, Jocelyn Elders grew up in a rural, segregated pocket of Arkansas. In spite of socioeconomic obstacles, Dr. Elders earned her medical degree from the University of Arkansas Medical School in Little Rock in 1960. She returned to the university for her residency in 1961, after which she became chief resident responsible for a team of all-white, all-male residents and interns. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton appointed Dr. Elders director of the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987. As U.S. President, Mr. Clinton appointed Dr. Elders the first black U.S. surgeon general in 1993. 

Marilyn Gaston, MD. First black female director of a U.S. Public Health Service bureau. Marilyn Gaston earned her medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1964 and completed her internship in pediatric medicine at Philadelphia General Hospital. She is credited for her groundbreaking research in sickle cell anemia. Dr. Gaston was the first black female physician appointed director of HHS' Bureau of Primary Health Care in 1990, where she focused on improving healthcare access to underserved and minority communities. National and international organizations have recognized Dr. Gaston for her social and scientific achievements. She received each type of award given by the U.S. Public Health Service as well as the National Medical Association's most prestigious honor — the NMA Scroll of Merit

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA. First black female president and CEO of the Robert  Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey has more than 30 years of experience as a medical practitioner, policymaker, professor, and nonprofit executive. In 2003, she became the first black female president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one of America's largest philanthropic organizations devoted to public health and healthcare. Before joining the foundation, Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey served as a professor of medicine and healthcare systems at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, directed Penn's Institute on Aging, and was chief of geriatric medicine at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine.

To read about additional African-American medical pioneers, click here.