issue Summer 2021

Seize Opportunities

By Judy Masterson

“A minority of women faculty achieve higher academic ranks and leadership positions in academic medicine even though women make up half of medical school classes,” said CMS Dean Archana Chatterjee. “The CMS-WIMS program, which will focus on supporting and promoting women faculty, particularly those at the early and mid-career levels, is one way to address these disparities.”

The virtual launch of CMS-WIMS on March 30 featured a Marshall A. Falk, MD ’56, Memorial Lecture by Vivian W. Pinn, MD, who established and co-chaired the National Institutes of Health Committee on Women in Biomedical Careers. The founding director of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health, she served as NIH associate director for Women’s Health Research from 1994 until her retirement in 2011.

Dr. Pinn was the only woman and person of color in her University of Virginia Medical School Class of 1967. The day she was awarded a research fellowship in pathology at Massachusetts General Hospital, a male member of the faculty offered congratulations — then added, “You’ll never be chairman of pathology, because women don’t become pathology chairs.” Dr. Pinn became the first African American woman to chair an academic pathology department in the United States, at Howard University College of Medicine.

While 51% of medical school students are women, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), women make up 19% of deans in academic medicine, 25% of full professors and 20% of department chairs. Just 13% of full-time women faculty come from underrepresented minority groups, reflecting a 1% increase since 2009.

It’s not the lack of talent, but unintentional biases and outmoded institutional structures that hinder the access and advancement of women.

“We really need to do something about increasing not only women who come in and are promoted, but the diversity of women who come in and are promoted in the faculty of our medical schools,” Dr. Pinn said. “Women have been at least 40% of U.S. medical students for more than 25 years. While we often hear it’s the pipeline that is the reason we don’t see more women in academic leadership, you can’t tell me there haven’t been talented women, racial minorities, disabled or those of intersecting identities who should have been raised to higher leadership positions. It’s not the lack of talent, but unintentional biases and outmoded institutional structures that hinder the access and advancement of women.”

Dr. Pinn cited a 2018 consensus study published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine that found sexual harassment and its cumulative impact caused “significant damage to research integrity and a costly loss of talent.’’

“The data and the research show that the major reasons that women are underrepresented in academic leadership are bias, discrimination and harassment,” she said. “It is not due to a lack of aptitude. I encourage you to have a ‘good trouble’ attitude. Seize opportunities. Have that self-confidence and try. I succeeded — with help.”

Dr. Chatterjee, who joined RFU in 2020, is the first woman dean of CMS and the first woman medical school dean of reported Indian descent, according to the AAMC. She is past chair of the AAMC Group on Women in Medicine and Science (GWIMS), which focuses on equity for women and specifically for women of color.

“This has been close to my heart for a long time,” Dr. Chatterjee said. “We know from the literature that a lack of representation of women actually hurts institutions. We don’t perform as well without that diversity. While RFU is doing well in terms of women in leadership, there is still a lot we can do to ensure the next generation of women is prepared and ready to lead in health, education and research.”

Women in Academic Medicine

  • 51% Female Medical Students
  • 19% Deans
  • 25% Full Professors
  • 20% Department Chairs
  • 13% Full-time Faculty From Underrepresented Minority Groups