Rochester Medicine

Women, Unlimited: Closing the Gender Gap in Medicine and Science

Sep. 1, 2019

As the quest for gender equity and inclusion at the School of Medicine and Dentistry unfolds on these pages, we celebrate some trailblazers and new leaders who, by example and advocacy, are driving the advancement of women in medicine and science.

In 2017, for the first time in history, men no longer made up the majority of students entering U.S. medical schools. But a leaky pipeline still exists when it comes to women advancing clinical and research careers. There are disparities in salaries, promotions, awards, and research funding, as well as underrepresentation in academic leadership positions and scholarly work.

The University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry— where the percentage of male and female medical students is split down the middle—is not immune to a gender gap at the highest levels, but is working hard to change that.

Only 30 percent of deans, department chairs, and executive-level administrators are women. Men hold four times the number of chair positions as women, and are 44 percent more likely to be promoted to full professor.

It takes conscious and steady effort to make a dent in such a pervasive, historical imbalance, and the medical school is taking that effort seriously. For one thing, it has increased the number of full-time professors and other leadership positions over the past three years. And numerous resources already are available or being initiated to ensure that women feel their perspectives are noticed—and valued.

Linda H. Chaudron, MD and Gina Cuyler, MD
Linda H. Chaudron, MD and Gina Cuyler, MD

“The whole picture at the top is changing,” says Linda H. Chaudron (MD ’92), senior associate dean for Inclusion and Culture at the medical school. “The institutional support to assure equity and advance women and other underrepresented groups is not just visible, but authentic.”

That support extends to the University of Rochester Medical Center, with administrators becoming more intentional about breaking down institutional, systemic, and structural barriers to gender equality. To achieve its full potential, a world-class academic medical center’s leadership must reflect the diversity of the population it serves.

It is a lengthy undertaking, being carried out in Rochester, and on a national level.

“There has been slow and steady progress over time, and we really need to celebrate our wins,” says Diana Lautenberger, director for Faculty and Staff Research at the Association of American Medical Colleges. “At the same time, by spending too much time and energy thinking about the progress we’ve made, sometimes that distracts us from how far we still have to go.”

According to AAMC, women across the country account for 16 percent of medical school deans and 18 percent of department chairs—each figure rising just 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively, over the past 10 years. The number of female full professors in academic medicine has increased only from 19 to 25 percent in the last decade.

“That’s nowhere near where we want it to be,” adds Lautenberger. “We need to move the needle at a much higher and faster rate.”

AAMC’s next “The State of Women in Academic Medicine” report, coming out in November, will include a more comprehensive snapshot than usual of female experiences in a male-dominated field—pulling data from engagement and satisfaction surveys, as well as health care surveys, to learn about climate and culture.

The medical school and the Medical Center “are creating more ways for women to get together to talk about ways the culture and structure needs to change, and how they can support each other,” says Vivian Lewis, MD, who recently retired as vice provost for Faculty Development and Diversity in the Provost’s Office at the University of Rochester. 

Aside from helping to launch policies focused on families, harassment, and discrimination, the office researches aspects of climate and faculty satisfaction. In spring 2020, data will be available from a three-year effort with the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in which anonymous exit interviews will help shed light on why women are leaving their positions.

The Office for Inclusion and Culture, meanwhile, offers programs and events supporting the advancement of women in medicine and science throughout their careers.

Carla Casulo, MD and Edith M. Lord, PhD
Carla Casulo, MD and Edith M. Lord, PhD

For instance, the annual Tana Grady-Weliky, MD, Lecture on Women and Diversity in Medicine hosts nationally known figures in academic medicine to focus on issues of importance to women and others from underrepresented groups in medicine. In 2020, Deborah German, MD (Res ’79)—an alumna of the internal medicine residency—will be the keynote speaker.

Other examples include the program Developing from Within: Exploring and Enhancing Choices for Mid-Career Women Faculty; a series for junior women faculty titled Strategic Career Advancement: Conversations with a Former Chair; Women’s Wednesday Workshops, led by graduates of Drexel’s ELAM program; half-day career development seminars; and networking events.

In addition, affiliations with national organizations such as the American Council on Education’s Women’s Network, which advances and supports women in higher-education careers, offer faculty and staff opportunities for growth.

More men should step up to call out bias and better understand where representation falls short, given that they’re the ones who dominate positions of power, advises John P. Cullen, PhD, director of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Rochester’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute and assistant director of the University of Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony Center.

According to research on unconscious bias, male applicants are rated as more competent, hireable, and deserving, than females with identical experience.

“In my opinion, it shouldn’t always be up to the group that is oppressed or marginalized to take on the fight by themselves,” Cullen says. “I use my privilege as a man, and a white man, to advocate for equity. The work is slow, and it’s going to be slow.

But we are not going to shift the needle quickly enough until we get men involved. They have a responsibility to do this.”

For his perspectives on male allyship and the need to support women in academic biomedical research, AAMC, in November 2017, Cullen in to its Group on Women in Medicine and Science Steering Committee—the man to be selected to join the group.

“We often go into a room and see who has a seat at the table, but it’s more important to flip that and see who doesn’t have a seat at the table,” Cullen says. “Maybe there are women in the room, but are there women of color? Then the next part of this is, even if they have a seat at the table, do they have a voice? Are they being heard?”

Chaudron, chair of the AAMC GWIMS Steering Committee, praises Mark B. Taubman, MD, URMC CEO and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry, for his part in helping to answer these questions.

“There are always places we can improve,” she says, “but his clear commitment to gender equity and academic advancement has really sent a message to people that this is important and we need to address it head-on.”