Woman for FHIR Panel
3 Min Read

Nurses, nerds, and Women for FHIR

Rien Wertheim

DevDays 2023 saw Vivian Neilly from Google launching the Women for FHIR initiative to discuss the role of women in the FHIR community. We kicked things off with a panel discussion that also featured Simone Heckmann (Germany), Michaela Ziegler (Austria), and Virginia Lorenzi (USA) – with me in the chair. The 20 minutes we had weren’t enough for a deep dive into the topic (we’ll make it longer next year), but the informal chats that followed, and an off-schedule lunch, showed we’re off to a good start.

Vivian Neilly

After the panel, we talked about visibility and role models. It’s a truism that men don’t refrain from voicing an opinion just because they only partly understand something. But as a minority in tech, women can feel like tourists in a foreign country, and even today cultural conditioning can hold them back, so the fact that 25% of this year’s DevDays participants were women – and 35% of the speakers – is sure to inspire confidence and broaden participation. (And yes, those figures are still lamentable, but the FHIR community is way ahead of software development as a whole.)

Michaela and I also discussed the topic of competition, and how it tends to be ‘a guy thing’. That opened my eyes to how strongly competition is embedded in DevDays, even though we didn’t do it on purpose. The Student Track Award, the puzzle competition, the Call for Presentations, the Ubernerd Award, the Padel Competition: we could do most of this stuff without declaring a winner, but we added a competitive edge. Why? Michaela thought more women would join in if we dialed it down. I made a mental note to check the percentage of women answering next year’s Call for Presentations, and the gender balance in the accepted submissions.

But what stuck with me most was the feedback I got about the Nerds Track, where the most useless and over-the-top home appliance won the Ubernerd Award. On stage for that were three nerds and three jury members. All of them are male. I’ve learned that the word ‘nerd’ doesn’t greatly appeal to women and may even be problematic. I get the point. My own daughter was put off studying computer science by the crowds of ‘nerdy male’ students at the open day. I now wonder about Firely using nerdiness as a badge of honor – “We are the nerds who help other nerds help doctors and patients”. Another mental note: discuss this with our marketing team (all women).

On the other hand…Dawn Dowding in her keynote on the nurse perspective pointed out that the majority of nurses are still women, and nurses are hackers. They always find a solution, using whatever they have to hand, especially in an emergency. That sounds pretty nerdy to me.

So, will we have to choose between Women for FHIR and the Nerds Track going forward? I also spoke with Vicky Strateman from Vermonster, who was really inspired by the track and intends to apply next year. 

Let’s see how that goes. I promise there’ll be at least one woman on the jury.

To participate in the Women for FHIR discussion, please feel free to join the Zulip stream.