Women in the industry – April 2019

Dr. Gina Caravaglia

by Kayla Johnson

It’s becoming pretty clear that Oklahoma is going to establish itself within the first year as a major powerhouse of cannabis in the United States. As of March 26, there are 1,193 dispensary licenses approved in the state, along with 2,161 growers and 605 processors to serve over 74,000 patients, and dozens of doctors offices across the state that are helping Oklahomans get their recommendations done. While in many other industries women tend to be in the minority, in cannabis, women are becoming their own powerhouse, and taking the cannabis industry by storm.  They’re opening their own businesses, starting their own farms, and their own medical practices, as is the case with Dr. Gina Caravaglia.

Dr. Caravaglia owns Elevated Care Clinic in Tulsa with her daughter, Sheena, and has been doing patient recommendations for medical marijuana in the state since September 2018 when they opened the clinic for business. Though she’s moved around and practiced in other states, she also had a practice in Muskogee at one point before moving away. With the passage of 788, however, she decided to return at the encouragement of her daughter, and opened the clinic. “My daughter kept telling me about cannabis for years while I was out in California working in addiction medicine, and I just kept kind of brushing it off, but about a year ago, I was in a gourmet cheese store in Palm Springs, and my boyfriend and I bought some tea there. It tasted great, and my boyfriend pointed out that it had CBD in it, and I couldn’t believe how good the tea made me feel.” When Oklahoma passed 788, her daughter suggested that she come back to the Sooner State. “She told me that people were going to be needing recommendations for their medical cannabis cards and since I’ve lived here before and I have a license to practice medicine in Oklahoma, why not come out and open a practice? And here we are.”

Dr. Caravaglia takes pride in the fact that she treats the appointments for recommendations like any other doctor’s appointment. “Every patient that comes in gets a physical and we go over their medical history. A lot of doctors, especially some who do patient drives constantly, are all about just cranking out as many as they can, but I prefer to actually walk through it with them, talk about the benefits of cannabis and discuss methods of using it that would most benefit that particular patient and what’s ailing them, versus just signing their form and sending them on their way without discussing any of the information with them.” It’s more in depth and may be a longer appointment time, but for her, quality for her patients matters more than quantity to ensure they get what they need for a healthier life. While she’s not a pediatrician and does not make the first recommendation needed for pediatric patients to receive their medical card, she will make the second recommendation after meeting the patient and giving an exam like any other patient. 

While she takes a great deal of pride in being a doctor and doing the work she does, she admits it’s not always easy to be taken seriously, even by some of her own patients. “I have a problem with getting patients to call me ‘doctor’. They call me ma’am, or assume I’m a nurse or PA, and when I explain that I am a doctor, they tend to get very indignant with me, and start using it in a sarcastic manner.” The first woman to ever become a doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell, did so in 1849. 170 years later, and women in the medical profession are still facing disdain and a lack of respect, despite having gone through the same training and education as any other doctor. “Women have been so oppressed over the centuries that now, when we’re supposed to be equal, it’s extremely important for women who have earned their title of doctor to be addressed as such, because they’ve worked for it just as hard, if not harder, than their male counterparts.”

For Dr. Caravaglia, that lack of respect from not only patients, but other cannabis related businesses is one of the things she’d like to see changed about the industry. “It does feel like women in cannabis tend to be undervalued, even among other women who own cannabis related businesses. There’s no sense of camaraderie, and in some cases, individuals tend to try to take advantage of women when it comes to business.” Her daughter, Sheena, has even been the focus of inappropriate and hateful comments made, and Dr. Caravaglia hopes that professionalism will regain the majority foothold for the state’s cannabis community. “I was devastated by that, and while my daughter kept telling me to let it go, but it really crushed me that someone would be such a bully like that.” While there will always be those who treat women unfairly in one way or another, or even be outright hateful, there are still those who really make an effort to promote women in cannabis, and she makes an effort to focus on them and the positive side, rather than stewing in the toxicity that exists. “It’s hard, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing we can do but continue to keep doing what we’re doing, and let our work speak for us.”

Despite the struggles that continue today for women, especially those in the cannabis industry,  Dr. Caravaglia continues to hold her head high and keeps pushing onward. “I take a lot of pride in being a woman in the cannabis industry, especially as a doctor, and I really do love what I do. I love being able to help my patients live a healthier life, I love being able to help people get off of opioids or other medications they may be addicted to, and I love seeing how cannabis can dramatically change a person’s life for the better.”

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