Women in medicine finally have spotlight in COVID-19 fight

Increasingly, the faces we see informing us about the fight against COVID-19 are women. For some of them, it's been a lifelong journey through a world once dominated by men.

Video Transcript

KATE LARSEN: Dr. Yvonne Maldonado of Stanford began her journey into medicine as the daughter of immigrants growing up in Los Angeles.

YVONNE MALDONADO: My parents moved to the US from Mexico-- young couple moving to find a better life for themselves.

KATE LARSEN: Dr. Melanie Ott of San Francisco's Gladstone Institutes immigrated herself after falling in love with medicine in her native Germany.

MELANIE OTT: Oh, young Melanie was a very hungry girl who grew up on the countryside and always wanted to become more urban.

KATE LARSEN: They both share in a passion for virology, honed in the early days of HIV. Maldonado spent part of her early career with the CDC, eventually leading efforts to vaccinate vulnerable populations around the world, while Ott moved from caring for AIDS patients in Frankfurt to earning an advanced degree that she needed to become a researcher instead. Both rose steadily in a world of science and medicine led mainly by men.

YVONNE MALDONADO: 80% of the workforce in global public health are women, and yet you rarely see women in leadership positions. It's the same thing in public health. So, we've just been invisible.

MELANIE OTT: I remember when I was at the Gladstone-- starting at the Gladstone-- at a time when there was no female principal investigator. There were only male PIs. And it was a long path.

KATE LARSEN: But fast forward several decades to one of the great health crises of our time, and Yvonne Maldonado and Melanie Ott have joined a highly accomplished, and now highly visible, mix of Bay Area women helping to lead the fight against COVID-19. And perhaps, as importantly, becoming the public face of it.

MELANIE OTT: I think it comes with the territory that you are more exposed, so you will be asked to be commenting on certain things. While before, if you're not in the position and it's only a male person in that position, I think then, of course, you don't see female faces.

KATE LARSEN: As director of her own lab at Gladstone, Dr. Ott is often called on to explain the sometimes frightening nuances of coronavirus, while Dr. Maldonado shares updates on the vaccine trials that she directs at Stanford. And while they may be pioneers, they're also mentors, paving the way for up-and-coming women like Dr. Fatima Rodriguez and researcher Parinaz Fozoouni.

PARINAZ FOZOUNI: Really, I felt like in my career, it's been important to have someone in your corner who understands what struggles you're going through.

FATIMA ROGRIGUEZ: So it's been inspiring and it's really, I think, suggests that things are changing and that the face of medicine is changing to be more representative for what it should be.

YVONNE MALDONADO: And you can't perform on 50% of the population, then you know something's wrong with the system.

KATE LARSEN: And while improving the system may still be a work in progress, the benefits are becoming perhaps more visible than ever. In San Francisco, Kate Larsen, ABC7 News.

- And expect the hard work to continue. Dr. Maldonado is also serving as the Senior Associate Dean for Diversity and Faculty Development at Stanford, while Dr. Ott also serves as a professor of medicine at UCSF.