Promoting Leadership for Women in Academic Medicine

Mar 7, 2017
Jocelyn Lagerquist
WAM Summit_crowdMore than 150 women contributed to the development of an action plan to increase gender equity and advance the professional success of women in academic medicine, during the Department of Medicine’s inaugural Summit for Women in Academic Medicine.

The Summit, held on March 1 and 2, 2017, gave U of T Department of Medicine medical students, residents and faculty members a platform to share personal experiences, respond to multiple barriers in academic medicine, and hear from women in leadership positions around the globe.

“Women are creative and innovative and we need to ensure our voices are heard in healthcare,” explained Dr. Sharon Straus, who co-organized the Summit and is the Department of Medicine’s Vice-Chair of Mentorship, Equity and Diversity. “To do that, we need to create opportunities for women to lead in academic medicine.”

The Summit was intended to address the chronic lack of women in leadership roles in healthcare. As Department of Medicine Chair, Professor Gillian Hawker, wrote about in her March 2016 Chair’s Column: The Current State of Women in Internal Medicine.

Discussions around gender biases, career progression, work-life balance, power and vulnerability, and diversity emerged from the town hall.  Panels on leadership and “mythbusting” were also held.

“This is just the beginning of a conversation about valuing all members of the medical profession,” noted Dr. Gillian Hawker, the Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor and Chair of Medicine. “As the Chair of the Department of Medicine, I want to ensure we are not consciously or unconsciously disadvantaging under-represented groups and start brainstorming solutions to drive change.”

WAM_TownHallKeynote speakers included, University of Toronto Professor Sarah Kaplan, who discussed the gender biased lenses academics frame meritocracy through and Dr. Trish Groves, Director of Outreach and Advocacy for BMJ, who discussed the idea that good leadership is rooted in resiliency rather than perfection.

Uniting efforts to drive change in academic medicine and facilitating important dialogues were panelists: Dr. Malika Sharma, Dr. Caroline Chessex, Dr. Lisa Richardson, Dr. Reena Pattani, Department of Medicine members;  along with Mary Ito, CBC; Dr. Holly Witteman, Université Laval; Christine McLeod, Leadership and Performance Trainer for McLeod Enterprise Strategies; Dr. Pamela Valentine, Interim CEO, Alberta Innovates; Dr. Tammy Clifford, Vice-President, CADTH; Dr. Vianne Timmons, President, University of Regina; Dr. Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President and Provost, University of Toronto; Amy Kopelan, Bedlam Productions; Jessica Ching, Co-Founder, Eve Medical; Ellen DiVerniero, Head of Talent Management, Aetna; Teressa Moore-Griffin, Founder and CEO, Spirit of Purpose; and Dr. Catherine Zahn, President and CEO, CAMH.

“This Summit has brought together a room full of smart, thoughtful women who also have great breadths of experience in life,” said Dr. Shelly Dev, an assistant professor in the Department. “But what I’m finding amazing is that people in different stages of their careers are really talking about what the challenges are in academic medicine, and they’re identifying which challenges are the same, but also which ones have changed. There’s a process of reflection that’s happening in the moment.”

Assistant Professor, Shail Rawal, who practices internal medicine at the University Health Network, was encouraged by the shared vision of inclusion. “When I know there are 150 women in a room who may feel similarly about issues that I care about, I’m going to feel more comfortable speaking up and being a voice at a table,” noted Rawal. “It’s really heartening to be around people who are reflecting on the type of communities they want to be a part of and are bringing the conversation to a place of inclusion.”

The Department of Medicine’s vision for the Summit for Women for Academic Medicine is that it will be opened up to broader audiences of both women and men, and serve as a model for additional Department of Medicine diversity and equity summits.

To advance the work begun at the Summit, the Women in Academic Medicine Fund has been established to further future summits. Contributions are being accepted online.

Summit for Women in Academic Medicine Testimonials

“…A big thank you for inviting me to such a fabulously organized and inspiring conference. The space felt very safe, which was crucial to engage in meaningful conversations. I (and I’m sure many others) feel very inspired and hopeful moving forward, knowing that there are other female physicians and leaders who are passionate about improving gender equity in the workplace - and that includes healthcare!” – Mei Wen, MPH, MD/MSc Candidate 2019, University of Toronto

 “It was great to meet female colleagues I have not seen for months to years from other sites, Hamilton and Calgary! The guest speakers were phenomenal and the discussion we had was incredible. Thanks for your tremendous support for our female faculty and I truly appreciate it.” – Dr. Yuna Lee, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine

“It was exceptionally eye-opening and inspiring to meet and hear about all these amazing women's experiences. I learned valuable lessons about balance, ‘fear,’ preparedness and taking risks, that I am applying now as I consider my own career development.” – Dr. Catherine Yu, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine

“The passion in the room was tangible, and the genuine commitment to reform evident. It has been a long time since I have been to a session that moved me this much, and renewed my commitment to the Department of Medicine.” – Dr. Cathy Craven, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine


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