The Hadassah National Convention downtown at the Marriott Marquis was more than a celebration of women; it was also an assessment of a century of medical progress.

A plenary session Wednesday, July 27, on “Advocating for Gender Equity in Medical Research” captured both of those aspects.

Walking into the hotel’s Atrium Ballroom to see hundreds of the nearly 1,000 registered convention delegates was overwhelming and inspiring.

To begin the session, Hadassah National President Ellen Hershkin presented an award to Nanette Wenger, a professor of medicine in cardiology at the Emory University School of Medicine, for her pioneering research in women’s cardiovascular health.

Nanette Wenger

Nanette Wenger

Hershkin called Wenger a “trailblazer.” A Hadassah life member since 1962, Wenger led multiple studies showing that women react differently to cardiovascular disease than men do.

In 1984, Wenger said, more women than men died of cardiovascular disease, even though people thought of it as a health problem for men. By 2013, because of education, fewer women than men died from heart disease.

Wenger said this is one area where women don’t mind being second. “I challenge each of you to provide for our daughters and granddaughters the information available for our sons and grandsons.”

Trish Vradenburg, co-founder and vice chair of UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, presided over a panel discussing the rights of women in medical research.

Besides Wenger, the panelists were Phyllis Greenberger, the immediate past president and CEO of the Society for Women’s Health Research, and Pamela Ouyang, a cardiology professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the director of the Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center.

Ouyang is also the American Heart Association’s national spokeswoman for the Go Red for Women campaign.

Vradenburg described Alzheimer’s, which took her mother’s life, as the “most feared disease that causes so much despair.” A former TV writer who lightened her message with humor, Vradenburg said there is hope against Alzheimer’s but also a need for support in promoting the effort. “If I can’t count on Jewish women,” she said, “I might as well pack it in.”

At the close of the discussion, the three panelists encouraged women to take part in clinical trials. Patients in clinical trials usually do better than those not in trials because they receive more medical attention, Ouyang said. “Of course, nothing we do is without risk, but there is incredible benefit for the future.”

I hope that the hundreds of women in the audience are sharing with their Hadassah chapters across America the importance of gender equity in research into Alzheimer’s, heart disease and other health issues. The future lives of women and men then could extend upward like the towering floors of the Marriott.