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NEWS | July 25, 2014

Program succeeds in supporting women faculty at UC Davis School of Medicine

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

A program that supports the professional development of female faculty at the UC Davis School of Medicine has been recognized as a model for other institutions seeking to address challenges facing female faculty.

The Women in Medicine and Health Sciences (WIMHS) program at the medical school is the topic of an innovation article available in the online version of Academic Medicine. The primary author is Melissa Bauman, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. She wrote the paper as part of a two-year leadership and mentoring project with WIMHS, sponsored by the School of Medicine.

Her co-authors are Lydia Pleotis Howell, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Amparo Villablanca, professor and Frances Lazda Endowed Chair in Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine. Howell and Villablanca are WIMHS co-directors.

The article will appear in the print edition of Academic Medicine in August.

Women continue to be underrepresented as academic biomedical faculty, even though women make up nearly half of the medical and biological sciences doctoral students in the United States. Currently, only 13 percent of female full-time faculty nationwide are full professors, compared with 30 percent of male full-time faculty.

A 2007 study by the Institute of Medicine examined why women are underrepresented in academic medicine. It did not cite a shortage of female physicians and basic scientists entering these fields, as the proportion of female medical and doctoral students has increased dramatically over the past 50 years. Instead, the IOM pointed to the steady attrition of women throughout their careers.

Reasons for the higher attrition rate among women “are numerous and complex but importantly include unintentional bias and the challenges of balancing career and family life, which can slow career advancement and lead to departure from academic medicine,” states the article in Academic Medicine.

Academic medical centers have followed the lead of businesses in implementing career-flexibility policies as a strategic recruitment and retention strategy and as a way to mitigate work/life stress. However, these changes alone have not improved the retention rate of women in academic medicine, Bauman states.

“Surveys by the Association of American Medical Colleges show that a number of medical schools have programs that support the professional development of female faculty, but the nature and extent of such support varies substantially,” said Bauman in her article.

Credited as recruitment, retention aid

Established in 2000, the WIMHS program provides an inclusive and supportive climate and unique opportunities for female faculty to network, interact and collaborate with each other. It is geared toward helping women faculty achieve their full academic potential through support, leadership, mentoring, sponsorship and skill building. The program also includes the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis.

Because simply finding time to meet is a major challenge for women in medicine programs, WIMHS events typically are held at noon with a catered lunch to minimize conflicts with family time or clinical duties.

Since the inception of WIMHS, the number and percentage of female faculty at the UC Davis medical school have steadily increased, as have the number of female full professors and the percentage of female department chairs. Percentages of new hires at UC Davis who are women and of faculty promoted to associate professor who are women are comparable to national AAMC data.

Bauman said that she and her co-authors cannot determine if the increase in female faculty over time is directly related to the WIMHS program. However, she states that “department chairs cite the WIMHS program as an important tool in recruitment and retention, and new hires cite it as a reason for joining the faculty.”

The authors state that the WIMHS program’s implementation and design strategy is generalizable to other institutions and can be tailored to the particular resources of each. They plan to undertake more formal evaluations of the program to allow them to more directly measure the impact of the program on career satisfaction and advancement metrics.

To read the online article, go to the Academic Medicine website and, in the "Published Ahead-of-Print" section, click on the title of the article, "The Women in Medicine and Health Science Program: An Innovative Initiative to Support Female Faculty at the University of California Davis School of Medicine."

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at medschool.ucdavis.edu.