Today men and women attend medical school in equal numbers. But for most women who go on to academic medicine, that's also where the numbers stop adding up. Just twelve percent of women faculty members are promoted to full professor, compared with one-third of male faculty. Furthermore, in the nation's 125 medical schools, on average there are only thirty-five women full professors compared with 188 male full professors per school. Finally, women hold only eight percent of clinical science department chairs and eight percent of deanships.
Against this backdrop, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institutes of Health have called "for an urgent broad national effort" to maximize the potential of women faculty in medicine and the biomedical sciences.
Five leading medical schools, Brandeis University and the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), are spearheading this effort. They have launched a landmark five-year study to explore and address the dramatic under-representation of women and minority faculty in leadership and senior positions in academic medicine. The National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine, (also known as "C--Change" for cultural change) is supported by a $1.4 million grant from the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation of New York.
"There is an urgent national need to realize the full potential of women physicians and researchers in the biomedical sciences. Everyone knows there is a problem, but we do not as yet have full and reliable answers to correct it," said principal investigator Linda Pololi, MD, a senior scientist and resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis.
Many women physicians and scientists believe that the current organization and culture of academic medicine disadvantages them, preventing them from reaching key decision-making positions, Pololi explained. "We are looking at these concerns in a comprehensive way, using both in-depth qualitative and quantitative research methods."
In tandem with fostering the advancement of women and minority physicians in academic medicine, the project addresses three national imperatives: the need for collaborative, interdisciplinary work in medical practice, education and research; medical faculty burnout; and providing the best, culturally sensitive, health care to a diverse nation.
The medical schools at Duke University, George Washington University, Tufts University, University of Minnesota, and University of New Mexico are demonstration sites for the study. The initial phase of the project, now completed, involved in-depth interviews with male and female medical faculty at the five schools. A national faculty survey will be conducted in partnership with the AAMC.
"Our strategy is to engage senior leaders in academic medicine in a collaborative learning process so that they can better understand the faculty members' perspective as well as their own organizational approach," noted Pololi. "Our goal is for each medical school partnering in the project to develop models for the rest of the country, Pololi said.
Materials provided by Brandeis University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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