Treichler is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine and lives in Hillcrest. Jeste is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at UC San Diego School of Medicine and author, with Scott LaFee, of “Wiser: The Scientific Roots of Wisdom, Compassion, and What Makes Us Good”, and lives in La Jolla .
March is Women’s History Month, a time designated to highlight the role of women in history and their contributions to society. It is, more specifically, an opportunity to remember, reflect and rejoice in their accomplishments in making this world and our lives a better place.
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Many factors figure into these achievements, including prosocial behaviors such as empathy, compassion, and a sense of fairness; self-reflection; decisiveness; tolerance of diverse perspectives; and emotional regulation. They are also, and this is no coincidence, the components of wisdom, defined and measured by science.
Wisdom has been a source of rumination for millennia, but only in recent decades has it become a center of empirical research. Wisdom has long been considered androgynous, with societies and individuals tending to use the same criteria to define and recognize it. Although individuals vary wildly in terms of possession, wisdom is not a trait belonging to a specific gender group.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any gender differences. They exist in details and nuances. Some relate to current socio-cultural expectations of men and women, which may change as gender equity improves. Others derive from identified components of wisdom, those elements which, in varying degrees, combine to make a person more or less wise.
Research – which we have done and by others – helps illuminate these differences. In one published study on February 3, we found that on special wisdom assessment tests, women scored higher on compassion, acceptance of different viewpoints, and self-reflection, while men scored higher on higher scores in decision-making and emotional regulation. In one type of test, women had higher total scores than men; in another, there was no gender difference.
The conclusion is that while women and men may be of the same wisdom, they may arrive at their destination by different paths, using different traits and tools to different degrees to get there. And in doing so, the fruits of their wisdom affect and shape the lives of everyone else in different ways.
Case in point: Now in its third year, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested humanity across the spectrum, including our humanity for each other. It tested our empathy and compassion, as well as our ability to regulate our emotions, to reflect on ourselves, to accept differing opinions, to act decisively for the common good. It forced us to be wise – or at least try to be wiser.
Part of wisdom is recognizing and learning from mistakes and then not repeating them while understanding that we will make new mistakes and need to learn from them as well. Our behaviors and actions during the pandemic have ranged from appalling to inspiring. It is in this last observation that we celebrate this month and some of our female colleagues.
Women in healthcare are better represented at all levels than in American companies as a whole, but in leadership positions they are still a clear minority. Nearly 80 percent of the nation personal health is made up of women, according to the US Census Bureau, but less than 20 percent hold key leadership roles. Less than one in five hospitals East led by a woman.
UC San Diego Health is one of them, led by Patty Maysent, its CEO since 2016 and the first woman to hold the position. Facing a pandemic (the full scale and consequences of which would take months to reveal), Maysent led with compassion, inclusiveness and thoughtfulness about what it means to be an academic medical center and to provide health care for all.
Under his leadership, UC San Diego Health treated evacuees from Wuhan, China, including the 13th and 14th diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. With critical partners, UC San Diego Health opened California’s first vaccination superstation at Petco Park. Rejecting isolation for outreach, UC San Diego Health launched mobile immunization clinics and shared medications and supplies with other providers in need.
Women in critical scientific and clinical leadership positions have guided UC San Diego Health through these difficult times. A woman created the mathematical models that first predicted the course of the pandemic. Women have been central to the development of infectious disease protection measures and programs to address the ever-evolving threats of the virus, and they continue to do so, becoming familiar, informed and reassuring public voices. A woman leads emergency management at UC San Diego Health. Women scientists have conducted local COVID-19 clinical trials and developed massive and rapid testing and vaccination efforts.
We can’t know how the pandemic might have played out differently with different actors, but what we do know and celebrate here is that these women – and many others in this city and region – were in able to make a difference and benefit all of us, regardless of gender.
This essay is in the print edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune on March 22, 2022, with the title, Women inspired us during the pandemic