March 23, 2010- Florence Sabin, the famed pathologist, became the first woman given the title of full professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1917. The second female professor wasn’t named until more than 40 years later. And when Janice Clements, Ph.D., was promoted in 1990, she was only the 24th woman in the nearly 100-year history of the medical school to make full professor.
Times certainly have changed.
On Thursday, March 25, Johns Hopkins will mark the passage of a major milestone in gender equity with a celebration of the great strides made by the institution — and the women in the institution — over the past two decades. The event will take place at 4 p.m. at the Turner Auditorium on the Hopkins medical campus.
“We’ve put an emphasis on this and it has really paid off,” says Clements, vice dean for faculty at the school of medicine and a professor of comparative medicine. “Medicine was a very male-dominated field until about 15 years ago. Even if women got into medicine, if you looked around at the leadership, you didn’t see women. Without role models it was impossible to think, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ Now they are starting to have role models who look like them.”
“When we encourage women to advance in their careers at Hopkins, great things happen,” says Edward Miller, dean of the Hopkins School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. “We cannot permit the wealth of talent within our female faculty to go untapped. It is not only in the best interests of our female faculty to advance through the ranks, it is in our institution’s and our patients’ best interests as well.”
Women make up about 20 percent of the professors at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Clements says, a number that puts Hopkins ahead of the curve nationally. Only about 15 percent of the professors at academic medical centers nationwide are women. The proportion of female associate professors at Hopkins is about 35 percent and the proportion of female assistant professors is about 45 percent. Medical school classes are 50-50, she says.
“We’re building the pipeline,” she says. “Our goal is to eventually have the percentage of female professors be something like 40 percent to 50 percent.”
As part of the March 25 tribute, Clements will present the Vice Dean’s Award for the Advancement of Women Faculty to Emma Stokes, Ph.D., director of priority initiatives for the Department of Medicine.
Among those scheduled to speak at the event are Carol Greider, Ph.D., winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her pioneering work in telomeres and a professor of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins since 1999. Greider became one of just a handful of women to ever win that prize. Also on the agenda: Barbara Migeon, M.D., the geneticist who became female professor No. 6 in 1978 and Patti Vining, M.D., a professor of neurology since her promotion in 2002.
Professor No. 150 will also address the event: Kristy Weber, M.D., who became a professor of orthopedic surgery and oncology last summer and who is the first woman in the history of Hopkins’ orthopedic surgery department to ever be promoted to professor.
Weber, who graduated from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1991, returned to Hopkins in Dec. 2003, recruited to build the musculoskeletal oncology program here. Her focus is on bone and soft tissue cancers. She sees patients, performs surgery and in her laboratory does research on metastatic cancer in the bone.
Ever humble, she downplays her role as a pioneer, calling her spot as No. 150 “the luck of the draw.” The 155th woman was named professor earlier this year, when Barbara Detrick, Ph.D., was promoted to professor of pathology. Only about half of the women who have earned the title at Hopkins remain on the faculty. Some have died or retired. Others have gone on to leadership roles at other institutions.
When Johns Hopkins’ medical school was founded in 1893, it was the first major medical school to admit women on an equal basis with men, thanks to the efforts of philanthropist Mary E. Garrett who endowed the school on that stipulation.
“For those early women professors, I don’t know how they did it. The environment must have been very tough for women,” Weber says.
There are stereotypes that may scare off women, particularly in surgery, where patients and fellow doctors often expect a man to be performing the operations, she says. Add in the long hours, the desire for many women to have families and balance in their lives and it makes for a difficult equation for many. Weber says her goal is to “be visible and erase any stereotypes that are untrue.”
Says Weber: “Women have a different approach to patients and I think some patients are looking for women to be their doctors. Some of my women patients are happy to have a woman surgeon. They feel comforted.”
Clements says efforts large and small have been made to bring in women and encourage them to stay at Johns Hopkins. She recalls that when she was asked to give the prestigious Dean’s Lecture in the early ‘90s, she was one of the first women ever to give one. Now, the lectures are given by two men and two women from the faculty every year.
She says more attention has been paid in recent years to getting women in position to be promoted. Forty-five women have become full professors since 2005. Assistant and associate professors now get annual reviews with the heads of their departments or divisions — the perfect place to discuss the path to full professorship. Hopkins recently created the Office of Women in Science and Medicine to assist women in advancing their careers. Efforts have been made to ensure gender equity in salaries.
Meanwhile, some of the crazy hours required of doctors at Hopkins have been scaled back in family-friendly ways. In surgery, for example, grand rounds used to be done on Saturday mornings, something that turned off many women considering Hopkins. Now grand rounds are done during the week. Professor Julie Ann Freischlag, M.D., is chair of surgery.
“When you make a place better for women, you make it better for all faculty,” she says.
Still, progress is slower than some would like. There are, for example, only three department heads at the school of medicine who are women.
So much is expected of women beyond what happens during the workday, Clements says.
“We don’t just do our professional careers,” she says. “We do all of the other things we feel responsible for — that complicates and makes the road a little bit harder. We take care of our children and take care of our extended families. There are all of those other expectations.”
Media Contact: Stephanie Desmon