Women Medical School Deans and a Culture of Encouragement
| Sep 24, 2012 7:00 PM
A recent article published in the reputable journal, Academic Medicine, gave me pause. The article is entitled, “Gender-Related Differences in the Pathway to and Characteristics of U.S. Medical School Deanships,” by F. Scott White, Ed.D. and colleagues.
The authors examined the trends in leadership positions of academic medical institutions between 1980 and 2006 and concluded that, although gender equity is commonplace among medical school students (almost 50 percent), leaders of those schools are still predominantly men. As of 2010, only 13 percent of the deans of medical schools were women—lower than the number of deans of law schools (20 percent women) and even presidents of universities (23 percent women). Interestingly, only hospitals (12 percent of CEOs are women) have as few women at the helm.
Moreover, the authors found, much to my dismay, that these women leaders did not seem to be true equals to their male counterparts. The women tended to have trained at less research-intensive institutions and served as deans at schools with lower NIH research award rankings, and—say it isn’t so—didn’t last long in these leadership roles.
Why would medical schools and hospitals tend to have fewer female leaders than other fields? The answer is likely multifactorial—ranging from pipeline issues (there weren’t as many women medical students 30 years ago) to issues of family and career conflicts (childbearing years are deferred to early faculty stages and hamper career progression).
I’d like to offer another thought that was prompted by the recent public discussion about bullying in medical school. Nationally, as many as 47 percent of medical students responding to the AAMC 2012 Graduation Questionnaire reported having been mistreated at some point during their medical school training. The mistreatment is not necessarily gender-specific. In fact, the most egregious case of mistreatment I experienced as a medical student was delivered by a female pediatrics resident during one of my earliest rotations. I didn’t take her blistering attack personally, as much as I viewed it as the result of excess stress combined with severe sleep deprivation, insecurity and a pinch of self-absorption— all commonplace in the medical arena.
And so I wonder, could it be that this climate of high stress and inadequate support creates a sense of disillusionment among young trainees? In particular, does it cause some women to be disinclined to become part of the establishment? Could we advance the cause of women, and men, in leadership by nurturing a culture of encouragement and support in medical schools? I welcome your thoughts.
Author: Vivian S. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A.
About the Author: Dr. Vivian S. Lee is the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences at the University of Utah, Dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care. Read her full bio herecomments powered by Disqus