Dr. Jennifer Ashton

Chief Medical Correspondent, ABC News

“We should be at a time where women don’t have to feel like they need to act like a man to do that, they should be their true selves. Whatever that looks like and sounds like and talks like and walks like.”

In your opinion, what do you feel makes for a power woman?

I think for me, the definition of a power woman is someone who has an impact on whatever her personal core mission is. And maybe that’s a very public, outward facing, core mission and impact or maybe that’s something much more subtle and under the radar and behind the scenes.
But regardless, I would consider that impact to be of a life changing magnitude. And I think it’s pretty simple, but that’s the definition to me. I think, there could be a woman who never works outside the home, who has dedicated her life to raising her children or being a foster parent or something like that. That’s a power woman, in my opinion, even though we might not have ever heard of her.
So, fame has nothing to do with it. It’s just the magnitude of the impact, whether that’s on one person or a million people.

What do you think is the number one action as a society we can take to forward and empower women and gender equality?

Well, you know, I’ve started to say this publicly and I think, I hope that it’s interpreted in the way in which I mean it. But I would like us to be at the point where we no longer have to say, to specify, someone’s gender or race or ethnicity. Not that those things are not important, they are. They make up who we are as individuals and collectively. But for myself, the example that I always think of is, I kind of look at it like a double-edged sword or a blessing in disguise, if you will, which is that, you know, I hold certain titles because I’m a woman or maybe not titles, but accomplishments or accolades.
I’m the first woman chief medical correspondent in the history of ABC News Network, but I’m only the third doctor, right? So there were two men predecessors before me, and I’m certainly proud and honored to be the first woman. But I wish that we were so beyond that it wasn’t necessary to even say that, and I think that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to that. Not just for women and gender, but for all kinds of identifiers. And I think that there’s benefits to identifying people in part based on their individual characteristics, but I think there are also downsides to that. I don’t want to be the best woman medical correspondent at the network, I want to be the best medical correspondent, period.
So I think that’s just the other perspective on the way I look at this issue.

And really well said. I have to say that in the same vein, we talk about the power women, that when is there going to come a day when we don’t have to say you have to be a power woman to be celebrated, right?
I mean, we don’t go around saying power men, right? Men seem to hold this space and it’s a given that they hold it. Its women have a stamp on it or some kind of approval or some recognition to allow women to feel empowered by it. Which you’re absolutely right. When is that going to go away? When is it going to be equal?

Yeah, and until then, I think it’s important and it is a reason to celebrate, collectively and individually, of course. But yes, it would be great if it could just be power people, right?

Right, right, right, right. Yeah, absolutely.
So just continuing from there. And I’m going to ask this question. I know that we tend to ask it only of somebody, if you feel it’s relevant, you’re in a space of how equal pay has been a massive conversation over women and men and how those discrepancies have come to be and how they got highlighted.
Do you feel it’s time already that, previous salaries and requirements of jobs have got to be, has got to be, a conversation and a question that never gets asked. And I know that in some states, this has been made mandatory that they can ask that question. I just want to get your feeling on it.

Well, you know, I can’t comment, obviously, on the legislative aspects of that issue. I can comment personally, which is that I’ve been a victim of that. I know for a fact in my medical and media career, whether it’s been directly or indirectly, or subtly, or not so subtly, I’ve had male executives in media, say to me “I mean, is the money you make really that important?” Like right, would someone say that to a man? Or I’ve heard even as recently as the last couple of months in New York City, when the subject was a woman producer being fairly compensated, that the answer was “Well, you know, her husband makes a lot of money.”
Would anyone say that to a man? So these kinds of things, I am currently and actively in the throes of them, in 2023, in New York City, in American media, and it’s not okay, it’s just not okay. And there is not a chance that that same dialogue occurs for a man. The reality is that salary and income and compensation are a direct surrogate for value in the workplace. And either you’re valued or you’re not and that scale has to be appropriate for what kind of work you do and what the comps are, and it’s still happening. So, we are far away from that achieving equity and parity.

So what do you feel is a possible to change that? I mean, what do you feel we need to do collectively or in making this possible?
I mean, do we women need to speak out more? I mean, there’s a fear that if you do you get almost put into this bucket of, you know, of that’s a troublemaker and all these conversations take place, right? For regular people and regular women that go for positions and they’re so frightened to say, I’m pregnant because then you’re, or I’m looking to have a family down the road.
Oh, well then let’s go with a guy because he’s, and if he does have a family, the wife’s going to take care of the baby, not him, right? Which I think is changing a little bit, but still that divide and that break and that conversation is still present.

Yeah, it’s still present. And I think that there’s no easy answer for it. And there’s no one size fits all answer for it. I think that, one, one way that women can move the needle is, that they can quite simply take a stand and get to a point where it’s their choice whether they accept it or not, right. And I know that there are people who would say, well, no, that’s not the reality.
And women, I single-handedly financially supported my family for over a decade. And so, I understand that feeling of desperation. But I also understand the feeling of empowerment that comes from saying, you know what, that’s not acceptable to me. Either you demonstrate your value to me in the workplace, or I’ll look elsewhere.
Men do that all the time. Women in general, whether it’s in their relationships or their careers are much more afraid to do that. And it is scary. It is definitely scary to do that, but you never find out what’s possible unless you do things like that scare you. And so I’m not trying to be, tone-deaf and unrealistic to say that every woman can afford to do that, whether that’s financially afforded or logistically afforded. But I do believe that on some level, many women can say, even if it’s on a micro basis, this is my number, and I’m prepared to walk away if it’s not met. Like that’s reasonable. And I think that even on tiny levels, that’s more possible than we tend to think it is.

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s making the impossible possible by taking the chance on yourself, which is a hard thing for women. I’ve seen it. Like you say, myself, first time too. It is scary. And I think sometimes women don’t come from that space where conditioning and what they’ve grown up with has made the biggest difference in their life and that’s impacted them.
And so they stay in this space because, better to, better the devil, than the one that you don’t, for sure. But thank you for that. And I completely, I think I have a huge respect for just any woman in business making it work and changing the margins and lines for other women that are not in that space.
But just that takes us nicely into the next question, which is what was the defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today?

Wow, the defining moment. I would say that, and it’s not a specific anecdote that I can relate, but it is a kind of discreet inflection point, which occurred in 2009 really, which was three years after I had been doing cable national news and when I made the jump from cable to network television. And at that point, having a career in television was absolutely nothing that had ever been on my radar before. I didn’t try to make it happen. I didn’t want it to happen. I didn’t plan for it to happen. And it goes very very contradictory to the typical course of most physicians because most doctors are such linear, risk averse, personality types that we plan three, five, ten years down the road. And because our mindset is such in clinical medicine, where we try to minimize risk with patients lives, we tend similarly to try to minimize risk with our own careers.
And so in 2009, which is when my television career really took a jump, it was because something that I had never had on my radar just evolved and kind of was presented to me. And I took a chance on myself that I was going to try it.
And I did that truly in the purest sense of not expecting or planning like I typically would in medicine, for a certain outcome.
I just said, I enjoy this. I’m challenged and gratified and rewarded by its intrinsic kind of properties. And clearly, some big executives in network television think I’m good at it. So I’m going to clear a path to explore this, and it was really about kind of shifting around the logistics of my life and my medical career and my
private practice so that I could try going down this road, and it wound up being the single greatest decision and inflection point in my life because my role in television and my career in television has become bigger than my wildest dreams and more impactful. And what’s been incredible for me is that I went to medical school and became a doctor because I wanted to help people and I wanted to improve their health.
And I’ve done that in 20 years, in private practice with thousands of women and girls, but I’ve reached millions and millions of people through my career in television and had an impact on their health, which is more than I could have ever dreamt that I would have as a doctor. So if I hadn’t had the… I wouldn’t call it necessarily courage because I didn’t feel courageous when I made that decision. I was curious. If I hadn’t had the curiosity at that point, I wouldn’t have taken the risk. I wouldn’t have shifted my logistics of my life to clear a path for it to happen. So it was really the curiosity.

Right. Wow.
That’s and that’s pretty risky when you’re in a place of the breadwinner for the family and doing something or stepping out of your comfort zone of what you know into something that can get also an equally bad rap as well as a good rap, right?
So all of a sudden, overnight, it could have been very different to where it started off. So I salute you in taking the bull by the horns and just saying, what the heck, when am I going to get this chance again, if I don’t go for it?

Yeah. And it was exciting and scary and interesting and compelling and demanding and all of those things, and still is.

Yeah, fantastic. How young were the family at the time?

So in 2009 my son was 11 and my daughter was 10.

Okay. Okay. So at least good ages to go on mom, do it.

That’s right. Exactly. Thank god.

Which takes us nicely also into the next question because it kind of It’s almost like, what was your inner message that kind of took you there?
So the question reads, what was your mantra? What phrase or parable best describes your approach right now? Not necessarily then, but what do you feel reflects? What messaging would you like to put out there? Or you kind of live by that says.

Yeah. That I live by professionally, you mean?

Yeah, or personally. I think it all overlaps, right? I mean, you’ve got a strong person.

Well, what I said in the shoot, and I wrote down this quote, and I definitely live by this personally, is when someone shows you who they are, believe them. And I feel like, by the time you hit 50, you’ve been through all kinds of personal and professional relationships, but you stop being the kind of gullible person in any relationship where you let someone make the same mistake over and over and over again with you.
And that’s not to say that you don’t ever forgive people, or you don’t ever cut someone slack, or you’re not understanding. It’s that I feel like by midlife, you know what kind of personality traits and characteristics are important to you. And you know when someone is in your sphere that doesn’t meet those.
And if you’re going to let them stay in your sphere, you should stop trying to hope or expect that they’re all of a sudden going to play along your kind of playbook or mantra for life and morals and ethics and personality in terms of relationships.
So, and I came to that after a lot of therapy and a lot of relationships where I didn’t bring my best self or the other person didn’t bring their best selves or a combination. And now when I say that to myself about someone else, it’s truly and really without judgment. It’s not, I’m not saying this makes them a bad person. I’m just saying this is who they are, period, full stop. Again, my choice, whether I’m going to tolerate that and accept it or not, but that’s who they are. So don’t be deluded into thinking that, oh, that was just a fluke. People will show you who they are. Believe them. I think in terms of my profession, my professional mantra and one that is hardwired into the way you know, by the time my feet hit the ground from getting out of bed in the morning, it is I bring my A game every single day because people’s lives depend upon it, and that’s what I expect from myself. And you know, in medicine, as well as in television, the stakes are very very high, right? In medicine, I don’t have the luxury. No doctor has the luxury of saying, you know, I’m really not feeling it today.
I’m tired. I just, I didn’t get a lot of sleep. I have a lot on my mind. So, you know, I didn’t do the best operation that I could have done, or I just was distracted and I wasn’t thinking of everything that I needed to think about for you, my patient. We don’t have that luxury ever, and I conduct myself in television with quite literally the same stakes at hand and the same standards.
I have heard from people in the entertainment world, in the television world, well you know, people are just tired, so this fell through the cracks. That does not fly with Dr. Jen Ashton ever, ever. And in fact I do feel like I have a little bit of an advantage because my residency, my postgraduate training from medical school in OBGYN, which is a surgical specialty, prepares us to function at a high level when we are tired. That is part of our training so, ironically, network news television, which also I consider it like a media emergency room, functions 24 hours a day, right? I bring the same mantra to which is people’s lives are at stake. I can never say I’m tired or I’m distracted or if I’m not functioning on all six… or what’s the analogy? Six cylinders, 12 cylinders, whatever the maximum cylinders are, then I shouldn’t be speaking to millions of people.

Right. Yeah. Fantastic.
You’re absolutely right. And it’s so hard. I mean, I think somebody’s got to recognize that as part of the way you move forward. Right. I think the recognizing and admittance is the hardest thing. Do you think a lot of that has to do with experience also, and time?

I mean, I do think experience is important in that, but I also think It reminds me of something that one of my attendings asked me when I was a resident because I was a resident and I had two babies in diapers at home. Which was unusual, if
not, I think I was the only one out of 24 residents who had children for most of the residency.
And this person said to me, what would happen if one of your kids got sick when you were in the operating room? I said, I would leave. I would get someone in here to replace me, there are a lot of people in this hospital who can do my job here. My kids have one parent, one mother. I would leave immediately.
And that’s another way of describing another one of my major, like kind of, my ethos is I am 100% locked in wherever I am. I don’t know any other way to be. Maybe some people can be actively thinking of other things and other places at the same time and still deliver an excellent product.
I’m not one of them. I have to be 110% in the zone, whatever I’m doing. So if that’s, at ABC or on camera or on the air, that’s where I am at the time. And when I’m not there and I’m, let’s say, with my kids. Or I haven’t even told you, I have such an exciting start-up for women that’s going to be launching next year, but it’s taking a massive amount of time and energy mentally and physically to launch this.
And when I’m working on that, I’m 100% working on that. I’m not thinking of television. So, I think being in the moment is absolutely essential. And I know that I’m biased in this, but I feel like it is a very distinctive female trait. Our ability to multitask and to do it very well, I think, is genetically hardwired.

eah, that’s fantastic. And with regards to the launch, is that something that is health related that you’ve been working?
I know you’ve raised money

Yes, it’s health related. It is designed for women who are perimenopausal and menopausal. And all I can say now is it will have, multiple prongs to the brand, both, summits and retreats and content, educational content, edutainment content and possibly eventually bricks and mortar centers in certain cities in the country as well.
So it’s something that I, again, feel that everything is aligning at the perfect time. Because I think that, there’s a saying, sometimes the messenger is as important as the message. And I think that women’s health has gotten the short end of the stick for a long time now. And now we finally have people talking about perimenopause and menopause, and it’s great that everyone is talking about it.
But very few people are actually credentialed to talk about it in the way that I can and am and will. So I really feel excited about what will be coming in terms of that.

Well, know that the Moves Nexus group, in a way where it could be an exploratory space of minds and conversations.
And I know that with the network, we are looking to do very exclusive excursions and dinners and conversations. So again, Anywhere where we can kind of help to support content, just you know, we’ll talk about it down the road when you’re ready to make some noises. Yeah. We should pick up that conversation.
Thank you for sharing that. That’s so fantastic. And I think what’s really interesting can I call you Jen? I’m calling you.

Yeah, of course. Definitely.

Can I say that obviously what’s fantastic is that how the layers of experience are taking your mark into different areas to impact different circles and enhance the messaging that is so relevant to get out there.
Now, one of the things that came out of some of the conversations we were having in relation to the photo shoot and asking everybody to say what change would they like to see moving on to the next question, was That everybody wants to see a female president. It’s time already. Third World countries have had them.
And one of the questions that

I’m not interested!

Not yet anyway, not yet. But I think one of the questions that is lined up here is that what do you feel, or how would you describe the changes on the political landscape for women of the past five years has changed? What would your thought process be there?

Oh, well, first of all, I think it’s becoming more high profile, of course and not just here in the US, but globally, right? I mean, we have a prime minister of New Zealand, who’s of course, stepping down, but to Germany to, you know, multiple other countries are led by women. And I think they’ve gotten the attention of the world for that.
So I think that is, and it was all kind of happening simultaneously. So I think globally in terms of the profile, that’s improving and increasing. And I think that, I mean, look, it goes back to my first comment, right? Like, yes we need to have a woman president already, but you know, why is that even a category when there are women CEOs running literally the most powerful companies in the world, right?
And there are women governors and there are women political leaders in other countries. So it’s not, and I think we should be at a time where the women don’t have to feel like they need to act like a man to do that, they should be their true selves. Whatever that looks like and sounds like and talks like and walks like.
And unfortunately, we have a very superficial culture where when there’s a presidential debate, no one’s talking about what any of the men are wearing. But that is quite literally a headline for any woman on that stage. And that is so insulting and offensive to me and a waste of time.
So, I think that we, yes, it’s time already. But when we can stop talking about what a woman is wearing and start focusing on what she’s saying, then, we’ll know that we’re really ready.

Right, absolutely. No, and thank you for sharing that I mean I know that the impacts, again, all the layers of everything that you’re touching on, on when is the conversation going to change. When do we not have to have these conversations to create our presence and create our awareness.
Now, I know that we’re also running out of time. I did ask for 45 minutes. I also know that the questions are long and thoughtful. So sorry about that.
So I am going to make a shift onto some of the questions that can warrant a one word answer or one sentence because of time.
So just moving into some of that space if you could have someone else’s job for a day, Who would that be and why?

Oh, this is so easy. I have long since had the dream job for a day of being an air marshal at the airport that helps the planes come in and go out. And I actually have the batons and I have a manual of some of the signals.
And I’m I really really really think it’s the coolest job. I love the power of that person. That person is bringing in, whether it’s a 747 or a tiny plane that think of what, first of all, it’s a feat of science that, that plane just is about to take off and go into the sky or is just landed safely.
We shouldn’t forget that they’re welcoming that person that pilot or sending that pilot off. And I just think that communication between the tiny little person and the big plane is, I’m obsessed with it, and I’d love to do that job for a day.

I have to tell you, that is the most interesting answer I have had.

That is it, hands down.

That’s hilarious.
Okay, moving on. And thank you for sharing that without holding back. Thank you for sharing that.
Next question. What is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?

Oh God, the best piece of advice. I would say the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was actually from my father, who’s a cardiologist. And he said to me when I was in medical school, and my father is a spectacular physician, like a true old school clinician.
He said to be the best doctor there is, you only need three things. And one of them is not to be the most brilliant doctor ever. You need to work really hard. You need to be honest, and you need to care. And I think that not only is that true for medicine, I think it’s true for life. And it’s, it is the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten because I fall on those three principles every single day. I fall back on them, I rely on them. I don’t know a person other than maybe my husband who works harder than I do. And the reason for that, if you ask me, why do I work so hard? It’s because I would say, because I have to, because I want to make sure I know what I’m talking about and because people are relying on me and maybe that it’s a little of that self-doubt, right? That makes me want to work that hard. And, you know, honesty and caring, I think, go along with work ethic, and I think they supersede talent and intellect any day of the week. It’s like, I think Derek Jeter, or maybe it’s not Derek Jeter, but there’s a very famous sports quote that says work beats talent when talent doesn’t work. And it’s very true.

“I bring my A game every single day because people’s lives depend upon it, and that’s what I expect from myself.”

Yeah, no, I agree. I agree. What’s your husband do? Is he in the same field as you?

No. My husband’s in sports and entertainment, and he works. I had never met anyone who worked. As hard as he works and harder than I do until I met him.

Ah, nice. That’s probably why the magic actually works because it’s not the, what’s happening when he’s working and vice versa.
Okay. Moving on really fast because I know that the time is ticking and if we run over a couple of minutes, is that okay with you?
Okay. Great. So, next question I know will align very well with who you are as a person. What steps do you take to obtain health work life balance?

Oh that’s pretty easy. I practice what I call the trifecta of good health every single day, which is how you rest your body, how you move your body and how you fuel your body. And so I do not sacrifice or compromise on sleep ever. I make sure that I get at least seven hours a night.
I try to exercise every single day. When I don’t, I am not happy and I don’t feel good. And I eat a pretty clean diet, something that I know is good for my body. And so I think those three things give me kind of the physiologic balance. I meditate almost every day, so that brings in kind of a mental and cerebral balance to me.
And then big picture is I make my decisions on allocating my time without guilt. All of the time, which is, whatever I choose to do, it goes back to being a hundred percent present or locked in whatever I choose to do with my time, which is our most valuable resource and commodity, I do it without guilt and second guessing.
And so if I choose to go out or to a work event or a social event or whatever, I don’t spend my time at that event thinking, why am I here, I should have been… I do it and I commit and I do it without guilt.

Yeah, fantastic. That’s a really good answer. And it’s one of the things that we don’t do enough of, right?
What do you feel, which historical figure do you most identify with?

I think in some ways I’ve always felt kind of a kindred spirit to both Joan Rivers and Princess Diana because they both went through tragedy in their personal lives, and they both were very very public figures. And their roles as mothers always seemed to me to be at the core of everything they did, even when it was hard for them to do that in the public eye.
And that’s very similar to experiences that I’ve had in my life with personal tragedy and having to kind of go through that in the public spotlight at times when that was the last thing I wanted to do, that I had no choice but to do that because it was my job and because I was supporting my family and my children and because my children were looking to me to see how I was handling the navigation of those difficulties.
And you know, and also that what the public sees might not really be reflective of what is going on behind closed doors. And I think certainly Princess Diana and Joan Rivers had a lot of heartache that they still had to go out and, you know, have makeup on and have their picture taken and smile for cameras when they really didn’t want to.
And I know now what that’s like. And it is not easy. But I’ve always found them to be very inspiring because of their kind of their personal fortitude and the women that they were in history, really.

Fantastic. Good answer. I never would have I never would have thought that’s where you would have gone, but I get it.
Favorite book?

My favorite book ever, and I haven’t read it in a while, I should probably reread it, is Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy. And, you know, it was made into a movie. Barbra Streisand, I think directed it and starred in it. And I’m friendly with Barbra Streisand, I actually spoke to her about that book and the movie.
I found it beautifully written, eloquent in its writing, but also compelling in the story. The relationship with the therapist and the protagonist and the life, and love that gets kind of unpacked in therapy and I really should, this will inspire
me to reread it this summer, but I read it a long time ago and it remains to be one of, I think, one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.

Fantastic. Thank you for sharing. What do you most value in friends?

I think, humility. I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of friends, both men and women who are really really impressive people. Personally impressive, but also professionally impressive. And they all make me better people just by dint of having them in my friend sphere.
But they are all so humble and modest and they are the last people to blow their own horn and the first people who actually should because that’s how impressive they are. So modesty and humility, I think are the qualities I value the most.

Okay. Last couple of questions. What do you most deplore in yourself and in others? And What do you consider is the most overrated virtue?

Oh well for myself, my worst trait is procrastination, which I think I’ve learned through a lot of work with my therapist comes down to a control mechanism, which clearly I haven’t fully addressed yet, but I tend to you know, I think I could be even more efficient and a lot more efficient if I just dealt with something when it kind of bubbled up or presented itself to me.
And instead I’m kind of aware of an inner dialogue that says, just because this is coming to me doesn’t mean I have to deal with it right now. I’ll deal with it when I choose to deal with it. And so my procrastination is so stupid, and it just winds up making ultimately my to-do list even longer.
But you know, when I was in school, procrastinating and leaving things to the last minute actually kind of added adrenaline to the excitement of intensity of getting something done. Now it just makes my to-do list longer, and it’s really stupid.

I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is superficial beauty. I think even though that’s not really a virtue, I think that’s overrated because A, it’s transient, B, it’s superficial, right? C, you know, I look at it with the lens of a doctor, which is that an accident could occur that could take someone’s physical beauty away in a heartbeat. But their inner beauty doesn’t weather with age and can’t be affected by an accident.
And so I think we are still a very superficial society, and we judge people based on their outward appearance, and that with AI now, that’s not even real.
So I would have to say that. I think virtue is a harder question. You know, overrated, I mean, I think in terms of popularity, the thing that’s overrated the most in our society is superficial beauty. I think that’s, I mean, when you have an overrated virtue, of course, is an oxymoron, right? Because then it’s not really a virtue and all of the real virtues that I think of like intellect or warmth and kindness and generosity and empathy, those can’t really be overrated if they’re real virtues.
So, yeah, I guess I would stand by my, the most overrated trait or characteristic I think would be superficial beauty.

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