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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brandeis-led project targets lack of women leaders in medical schools

Relatively few women are department heads or full professors at the four medical schools in Massachusetts. And Dr. Karen Antman of the Boston University School of Medicine is the only female dean.

This lack of women in leadership roles in academic medicine is no longer a pipeline problem, now that medical schools admit equal numbers of men and women, says Dr. Linda Pololi of Brandeis University, who is leading a study of the issue.

The answer to women's persistent under-representation must lie elsewhere, she said in a recent interview. "Something in the system impedes their progress toward taking leadership positions."

Here are the percentages of women in leadership positions at Massachusetts medical schools and how they compare with all 125 medical schools nationwide, according to 2005 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges provided by Pololi:

Deans
BU 100%
Harvard 0%
Tufts 0%
UMass 0%
US 13%

Chairs of clinical science departments
BU 11%
Harvard 10%
Tufts 8%
UMass 7%
US 8%

Chairs of basic science departments
BU 0%
Harvard 33%
Tufts 29%
UMass 0%
US 13%

Full professors
BU 19%
Harvard 12%
Tufts 11%
UMass 19%
US 14%

Pololi, principal investigator of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine, brought deans from five US medical schools to a two-day retreat at Brandeis last week. The medical schools, which are demonstration sites for the project, are Tufts University, Duke University, George Washington University, the University of Minnesota and the University of New Mexico.

Project members are still trying to diagnose the problem before coming up with solutions, Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, dean of the Tufts school of medicine, said in an interview. The project will run five years and is supported by a $1.4 million grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation of New York.

"People might reflexively think that it's discrimination or a glass ceiling, and there may well be an element of that," he said. "It may be in some cases that women choose not even to apply for these positions or don't aspire to them because they are not appealing to women at that stage in life."

"It's an important problem," Rosenblatt said. "I hate to see that potential not being realized."

The five medical schools in the project will experiment with programs to deal with the issue. Those programs have not been defined yet, Rosenblatt said, but each school will report on its results and share what works with others.

Certain minority groups -- African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders -- are also under-represented in academic medicine, but that does seem to reflect a pipeline problem at entry to medical school, Pololi and Rosenblatt said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:16 AM
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