How the Physician Moms Group (PMG) became one of the most powerful physician communities on the internet.
On the day my husband’s mother fell suddenly into a coma, I was over an hour away, and I felt helpless. I sent my husband ahead immediately and then sweated it out as I waited for my own child care relief to arrive, so that I could join him. It was excruciating, but I knew I wasn’t alone. I logged onto the Physician Mothers Group (the PMG) online, and posted a quick status and in less than five minutes I had more than 50 “bumps,” hearts and prayers. A relative of the head of the ICU at the hospital where my mother-in-law was being treated reached out to me, as did four residents at the same hospital. The head of the ICU came to see my mother-in-law immediately and gave me his cell phone number. Never before had I felt such a power in finding my tribe.
In November of 2014, emergency physician Hala Sabry, MD, had an idea. “I wanted to create an online group of physician moms to network with and create a support system,” said Sabry. “I was in a really rough place – lots of pressure I put on myself. I thought about what type of therapist I needed, and what I needed was a peer support group! My initial idea was small and simple – hoping the 20 people I invited wouldn’t reject me!” But clearly, she wasn’t the only one who had been craving connection. Within one month, over 3,000 physician moms had joined. By the end of the first year, that number had scaled to 50,000. Now, nearly 69,000 members are a part of this growing phenomenon that includes multiple specialties in a culturally diverse group of physician moms around the world.
Sabry spends at least 40 hours per week on the PMG, calling it a true labor of love. But she isn’t alone anymore. Joined by PMG partner Dr. Dina Seif, the two have grown the group in several ways, including branching into new research. Dr. Eleni Linos is the director of research and heads a 14 person team that is hard at work in support of professional women. The team published a JAMA article about the very real discrimination that physician mothers face in the workplace.
In partnership with Medlita, Sabry and Dr. Kim Jackson succeeded in a social media celebratory blitz. They pushed Doctors Day to Physician Week and invested in making National Women Physicians Day on February 3rd.
Due to its size and strength of its founder and members, the PMG has been selected as one of the top 100 meaningful Facebook groups. Sabry said, “It was definitely a surprise” when she was contacted by Facebook’s team and had the honor of being invited to Facebook headquarters to meet with executives to help further the goals of building communities on and offline. Sabry has also been invited to attend Facebook’s Global Health Summit and was hand selected to attend their first Group Summit. The PMG is the sole physician organization to have this honor. “It has felt like such a good dream, especially traveling to Facebook headquarters to meet with their executives. Such a cool place, simple mission and admirable company,” said Sabry. “I wish hospitals ran that way!”
Despite all of the accolades, the mission of the PMG has remained strong and steady. When starting it, Sabry asked herself what type of advice she would give a patient like herself. She was pregnant and working at the time and was feeling the effects of all of the pressure that being a physician mom carries. She thought about what would be the most effective form of stress relief therapy and reached out to her peers. But how can you gather busy doctor moms? Online! The group grew quickly with like-minded moms who had questions and needed support.
PMG posts are a wondrous variety of topics, from shoes and fashion to travel advice to parenting highs and lows. There are clinical questions and personal crises and plenty of nerding out on science or cracking up on Meme Monday. Members have shared their personal stories of devastating diagnoses and have received words of encouragement. Women have shared tales of divorce, abuse, and recovering from pain. Like me, women have reached out in moments of crisis with a sick family member far away and the group has rallied and connected the poster to doctors all across the world. And when a member isn’t connected to the hospital or able to help, she will reply BUMP (bring up my post) so the emergencies will go to the top of the list until their PMG sister’s need is met. It is swift and incredible how many total strangers but virtual friends will hug you through the internet at any given moment to honor and support their tribe.
The PMG sisterhood has suffered some losses recently. Sarah Beadle, an EM doc, tragically lost her life while trying to save her two children as they were hiking in the Grand Canyon. Her children survived, as did her legacy. The PMG has participated in a meal train service for her family, fundraising, and memorial services. Likewise, Dr. Christina Bereda was driving with her three young children when they were struck by a semi truck. Only one of her children survived. In true PMG fashion, the generous outpouring of love and support (meals, financial) has been remarkable. Total strangers are online family, and the losses have strengthened the PMG bonds.
Sabry remarked, “Clearly we have moved far beyond my simple hopeful success – and now our goals are set so much higher! We would love to have an organization which formally offers so many resources women physicians need that aren’t available just yet. We would also love to partner with other medical organizations to give a stronger voice to their women physician members and issues affecting recruitment, retention and equity of female physicians.”
The group continues to grow in new directions, from PMG retreats to local meet-ups to partnering with professional organizations to support physician moms in the workplace. PMG has partnered with HealthECareers as a way to communicate with employers the vital concerns on best practices for the recruitment and retention of physician parents. The PMG is helping to lead the way and blaze a trail to improve treatment of physician parents. The group has even been featured in Forbes Online, helping to give a voice to the ongoing compensation disparities that female physicians continue to face.
The Physician Mom Group began as a small group of doctor moms looking for their tribe. Now, the support system, advocacy group, and friendship circle has become a force to advance women physicians worldwide.
Image at the top – Sabry and company have branched beyond Facebook into hosting events, such as a three-day “girls weekend” in Palm Springs that includes spa treatments and a personal chef.
As wonderful as the original mission of PMG was, I am a disillusioned PMG member who has watched as personalized attacks have been overlooked and the socio-political agenda of the founders has enabled bullies and bad behavior. I went looking for peers and found myself drowning in posts from medical students, residents and the very young – none of whom are my peers. There is little tolerance for differences of opinion that do not toe the liberal line, and the level of discourse is largely dependent on the bully on the pulpit of whatever post one happens to be following. Hala’s rules are arbitrarily enforced, leading to a culture in which only one opinion – with its various permutations – is acceptable. Believe me when I say that I had really high hopes for this group and was incredibly enthusiastic about it in the beginning, but it has not turned out to be the great resource I thought it would be. The one positive is that it has enabled me to connect with groups of physicians who I actually do interact with and respect. I have yet to leave PMG, but for actual peer-to-peer professional and social contacts I go elsewhere. Hala’s group has many members but please be aware that a) many of us have unfollowed and don’t participate; and b) her word does not represent us all. For example, the group tolerates and shocking level of anti-Semitism and bullying. That’s not very noble or professional. Look a little deeper and you may find that many of us are dissatisfied – and looking for another option.
The liberal line is back in 2020. The page is apolitical, unless you are very liberal then you can say what you want. Man some women have outright gotten attacked for bringing up simple logical questions, as anyone trained in scientific inquiry should. Many, if not most, of the women on the page, stay in relevant subgroups but ignore the main page.
As an Emergency Medicine physician I sadly did not find PMG to be the ‘Mother of all physician support groups.’ On the contrary actually. My experience was one of intolerance for physicians with conservative thoughts and opinions. I was verbally attached if my views differed from the more liberal physicians in the group. The final straw for me was when one member verbally attacked my daughter as I expressed my sadness that my daughter was afraid to walk to the library due to protests on her college campus. The names this “professional” called my child….let’s just say brought out the mother bear in me. I, as well as hundreds of other moms/physicians left this group for similiar experiences. I believe one of my radiology colleagues was interviewed on TV sharing her similiar and unfortunate experiences.
Unfortunately, the original intent of the group has been lost. There are non-physician, non-mother members. If you disagree with the liberal agenda, you get crucified. I have seen ladies called heartless, told that others pity their patients for simply having a different political views. There is no room for different opinions.
Sadly, the group, which began as a small group of women supporting each other, has become a haven of censorship, hatred, liberalism and woman on woman bullying. The moderators remove and block people for voicing opinions not shared by the leaders. They have lost sight of the mission of the group and have created an echo chamber for their own views. I miss the old PMG dearly. Fortunately, there are other places to find the kind of support that PMG used to provide.
Unfortunately as an Emergency Physician and mother I was so happy to find PMG and there were definitely some great aspects. But around the time of the election a very negative side of the group came out. As stated above, there is significant hate and bullying that goes on within the group, race baiting and belittling. I did not find it appealing or even a place I wanted to go. Quite a disappointment from what it could have been. I personally was called many names and when seeking administrative support, it was only provided for a subset within the group. I have remained a member, but I never check in to the site. It’s rather like nails on a chalkboard and I have found supportive like minded communities elsewhere where opinions can differ, tough topics can be discussed and disagreed upon with the utmost of respect for the members contributing. That simply does not exist in PMG.
PMG is really great if you need help in a pinch, as you recount in your article. That said, PMG has become a polarized forum where a few loud voices try to strongarm others into apologizing for privilege. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The thing is — every woman on that forum is exceptionally privileged. It’s just so distracting. If you can scroll past all that, it’s a good place to find help or genuinely help others. But in reality, the rules are arbitrary and the moderators can be bullies.
Wow. There are a lot of disgruntled commenters here. PMG was never meant to be the ONLY support group for everyone. In a highly polarized nation and world, people have different needs. If PMG is not your tribe, join (or start) another one. PMG has been a lifesaver to me – when I needed medical advice when my dad was dying (that I didn’t get from his physician), when I needed a laugh, when I needed a safety net to share my struggles of juggling parenting and a job with impossible demands. I reconnected with a physician mom whom I had done an emergency C-section on 6 years ago who now has a beautiful, healthy daughter. It can be a crazy time suck, if you let it, but other than that, it’s glorious.
The PMG is not perfect and cannot be all things to all people. With 69,000 people, there are bound to be disagreements. And even some jerks. Hala cannot police every single comment, she has a job and a family! And we are all adults, some self-policing is helpful. I think the positive outweighs the negative and the PMG has brought a lot of good to a lot of people.