A former Northfield High School tennis and golf standout is now working on the frontlines of the COVID epidemic at Massachusetts General for Harvard University.
Dr. Courtney Harris, née Moors, is an infectious disease specialist who already has a storied career despite her youth. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012, majoring in medical microbiology and immunology with a certification in business. After completing medical training at the University of Minnesota, she did a four-year residency at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, even becoming chief resident. She is now in the second year of a two-year infectious disease fellowship in Boston.
Harris is also part of a group called Women In Academia Valuing Equity. As part of its efforts to support women in medicine and science, we are participating in a national campaign called the Give Her A Reason To Stay In Healthcare campaign.
Despite all that training, she is still assumed to be the nurse by some patients. Although she’s not necessarily slighted by the mistake, it would be nice to be more readily recognized for her experience and expertise, she said.
“There are episodes where I feel like I’m not treated equally; my opinions aren’t heard as much as others,” Harris said.
Furthermore, gender bias affects the medical field as a whole: a field in which two-thirds of medical students and half of medical workers are women. An article by Stanford University published last year said American Medical Association guidelines on workplace sexism are too vague, requiring only that doctors “promote and adhere to strict sexual harassment policies in medical workplaces.”
With that lack of detail, it is arguably left up to individual hospitals and individual health care workers to confront sexism by themselves.
Harris says she anticipates personally encountering more of that bias when she completes her training and fully enters the professional level. She figures the pay disparities and unequal parental leave policies will affect her, too.
“A lot of [women] may get passed up for promotion, especially if you take your full eight to 12 weeks of maternity leave,” Harris said. “So we see with women in medicine, that there really is a higher burden of child care and elder care that falls on women physicians.”
Additionally, women will find themselves stuck in activities that don’t advance their career, what Harris calls “citizenship-type duties,” such as committees.
In addition to her research, she works full-time in the clinical setting — in doctor speak that means she is on the frontlines, treating patients who have infectious diseases, from UTIs to COVID-19.
“It’s kind of cool, because you get to see all of it in infectious disease,” Harris said.
In order to keep fighting diseases in a supportive, collaborative environment, Harris recommended the same potential solution that Stanford did: direct intervention in the moment whenever sexism shows itself.
“The things that have been most helpful for me in my career, is when other physicians, especially my male colleagues … when they stand up and advocate for you,” she said.” They play a key role, that they’re vocal when they see inequities happening.”