Advancing the Careers of Women in Medicine – some progress but much more to do

This month, our institution is celebrating September as Women in Medicine month by highlighting the contributions of women to varied missions in the Carver College of Medicine. The question of gender equity is one that has generated many conversations not only within our walls but across many sectors of our society. Many organizations have been conducting various levels of self-examination to measure their progress toward providing women both equal access to opportunity and freedom from discrimination. Academic medicine is not exempt. Despite having more female medical students graduating from medical schools, the percentage of female faculty across all ranks nationally, still lags that of males. Even though many of us support the goals of increasing diversity and equity in our ranks, we will only get there (eventually) by constantly focusing our efforts and attention on the challenges and barriers that women face to advancement. It is very easy to lose sight of even the small things that can impede the career advancement of our women faculty. Therefore, I encourage all of us to be aware of unconscious bias in our decisions and to seek opportunities to provide mentorship and encouragement to support the advancement of women in our ranks.

WomenInMedicineOur University of Iowa Health Care media channels have been devoting a portion of their coverage this month under the theme: “Trailblazers, Advocates, Leaders.” Their interviews and stories highlight individual stories of remarkable women in our own institution who are breaking down barriers, developing innovative care models, and reaching underserved populations. I encourage you to read the stories that have been posted already on cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Sharon Beth Larson, LGBT+ clinic directors Drs. Nicole Nisly and Katie Imborek (voted 2018’s “Most Trusted Physician” in the area), pediatric neurologist Dr. Katherine Mathews, certified nurse midwife ARNP Lastascia Coleman, and reproductive science researcher Dr. Donna Santillan. Each of their stories highlight some of the challenges women face in medicine and the sometimes extraordinary lengths they have had to travel to succeed, but they also point to how things are going to get better. Their examples, day in and day out, might mean that the next generation of clinicians may have fewer hurdles to clear and less prejudice to swallow. Keep your eye on The Loop for more stories before the month is over.

For the last two years I have used this space each September to take stock of how we are doing as a department on issues of gender equity in faculty advancement. Two years ago, around half of our promotions to full professor and associate professor were women. Last year, that number took a dip, but I am pleased to say that this year both of our promotions to full professor were women, Drs. Krista Johnson and Rebecca Tuetken. Our associate professor promotions this year held steady at about half. These numbers are encouraging as they work to close existing gaps in our ranks. A review of our current ranks reveals promising signs but evidence of historical inequalities. In the interest of full transparency, here is where our department currently stands:


As you can see, there remains significant disparity at the full professor level. Although the gaps narrow in the earlier ranks, these data underscore the work that remains to be done. Nationally, 34% of associate professors and 21% of professors in academic medicine last year were women, so we are certainly exceeding the national average. But clearly, especially at the rank of professor, we should not be content to hold ourselves to that standard. More work needs to be done. A host of steps can and are being taken to correct these imbalances within our department from programmatic efforts like mentoring pairings that emphasize leadership training, to cultural shifts like greater attention to ensuring all voices in meetings are heard and acknowledged.

This is the effort of more than one month of the year. This department remains committed to the principles of diversity every day. We can see the evidence of this commitment in just the last couple months’ worth of notable events. Dr. Priyanka Iyer published a case she worked up while training as one of our rheumatology fellows that can now be accessed by clinicians seeking CME credit anywhere in the world. Dr. Mireia Puig-Asensio published a critical analysis that will influence how hospitals protect their patient populations from virulent outbreaks such as Ebola. Dr. Denice Hodgson-Zingman now directs the Electrophysiology Section within the Heart and Vascular Center. Dr. Julia Klesney-Tait, medical director of one of the nation’s most respected lung transplant programs, has been named to a newly endowed research professorship in pulmonology. And, of course, we will continue to intervene as early as possible, even at the undergraduate level, to ensure that women such as Rana Hewezi, Abagail McKernan, and Margaret Mungai know that there should be no barrier to what they can achieve.

About E. Dale Abel, MD, PhD

E. Dale Abel, MD PhD Francois M. Abboud Chair in Internal Medicine John B. Stokes III Chair in Diabetes Research Chair, Department of Internal Medicine Director, Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center Director, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Biomedical Engineering

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