Brandeis study to probe under-representation of women in top positions in academic medicine

Brandeis University, in cooperation with five of the country's leading medical schools, will conduct a landmark study to explore the reasons for the dramatic under-representation of women in senior positions in academic medicine and develop effective solutions to the long-standing problem.

The five-year project, Gender, Culture, and Advancement in Academic Medicine, has received a $1.4 million starter grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation of New York (www.josiahmacyfoundation.org). Linda Pololi, a senior scientist and resident scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis (www.brandeis.edu/centers/wsrc), serves as principal investigator.

An equal number of men and women are admitted to medical school, but just 14 percent of tenured faculty in the country's 125 medical schools are women, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges. AAMC statistics also show that only 11 percent of department chairs and eight percent of the deans are women.

"There is widespread perception that there may be something in the organization and culture of academic medicine that disadvantages women and keeps them from reaching key, decision-making positions," Pololi said. "Everyone knows there is a problem, but we do not as yet have full and reliable answers. This large project has brought together a national team of talented researchers from various disciplines and institutions to broadly investigate the issue; AAMC is also taking a major collaborative role.

"What we are aiming for is cultural change in medical schools," she said. "This is an action research project, since we are both investigating the problem and bringing about change."

Although the main focus of the project is the under-representation of women, the study aims to serve as a model for the perceived marginalization of other groups in academic medicine. The lack of advancement to top leadership roles for minority and generalist faculty will also be examined.

A National Advisory Group of leaders in academic medicine will provide advice and guidance for the overall study.

Five leading medical schools Duke University, George Washington University, Tufts University, University of Minnesota, and University of New Mexico are committed demonstration sites. The initial phase of the project involves in-depth interviews with their medical faculty. A national faculty survey will also be conducted in partnership with the AAMC.

"The deans of the demonstration-site schools have also committed to partner in an innovative Learning Network in which they will collaboratively design and implement required internal change and serve as effective demonstration models for the rest of the country," Pololi said. "We are all very grateful to the Macy Foundation for recognizing the importance of this issue for our healthcare system, biomedical research, and our society at large, and for coming to its full and enthusiastic support."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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