NEWS | November 6, 2009

Villablanca and Howell receive grant to examine women's careers in medicine

Editor's note:

Click here to download a high-resolution photograph of Dr. Amparo Villablanca and Dr. Lydia Howell.


UC Davis physician researchers Amparo Villablanca and Lydia Howell have received a $1.27 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health for research on family-friendly policies for women with careers in medicine.

The grant is one of 14 funded in response to a 2007 National Academies report — Beyond Bias and Barriers — that led to greater NIH attention on the challenges of women scientists and engineers.

"The National Institutes of Health is committed to building a diverse biomedical workforce," said NIH Director Francis S. Collins. "Our ability to train and retain women scientists is vital to our remaining competitive in meeting today's health challenges."

Villablanca, professor of cardiovascular medicine and Lazda Endowed Chair in Women's Cardiovascular Medicine, and Howell, professor and interim chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, will evaluate the influence of family-friendly policies on the career trajectories and success of women faculty at the UC Davis School of Medicine. The data will be compared to data for faculty in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and College of Biological Sciences as health science and non-health science controls. Laurel Beckett, chief of the Division of Biostatistics in the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, is a co-investigator on the project.

In addition to being a nationally recognized expert in heart disease and women, Villablanca has a long track record of encouraging changes that support women who are committed to both their scientific careers and families, advocating for the advancement of women in academic medicine, and fostering programs for the personal and professional development of women in science.

"Family-friendly university policies and mentor programs have helped bring more women into science, but there is a need to do more," said Villablanca. "Our study will determine whether family-friendly policies can have positive outcomes on the career satisfaction of women faculty, their academic advancement, or both."

Howell, a long-standing faculty member of the UC Davis School of Medicine and former associate dean of academic affairs, understands the value of encouraging the success of women in science.

"As the mother of two daughters and the wife of a physician, I know the challenges that faculty face when they are raising children and balancing demanding careers," said Howell, a cytopathologist who specializes in improving screening and detection for breast and cervical diseases. "The outcomes of the project will help determine if flexibility can help faculty better balance the challenges of work and family so they can find success in their academic careers and other aspects of their lives."

As part of the project, Howell and Villablanca will enlist the participation of faculty in the School of Medicine, identify faculty coaches and mentors in each department, and work closely with the chancellor's office and the school's leadership to increase awareness and utilization of family-friendly policies.

"Our goal," said Villablanca, "is to define a model of family-friendly practices that portends academic success and that can be easily applied at other institutions."

For more information, visit the NIH's Women in Biomedical Careers Web site. Beyond Bias and Barriers can be viewed online at the National Center for Biotechnology Information Web site

UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its specialty- and primary-care programs. The school offers combined medical and master's degree programs in public health, business administration and rural health, as well as a combined medical and doctoral degree for physician scientists interested in addressing specific scientific, social, ethical and political challenges of health care. Along with being a leader in health-care research, the school is known for its commitment to people from underserved communities and a passion for clinical care. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine.