In 1990, the Department of Medicine formed an eight-woman Task Force on Women’s Academic Careers in Medicine. It was in response to the university’s findings that female faculty members were not being promoted in a timely fashion — and national surveys showing that women were less likely to become department heads.
None of this surprised one of the task force’s founding members, allergist and immunologist Susan M. MacDonald, associate director of the department. Ever since she had arrived as a resident in 1980 and joined the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 1987, she had been a pioneering, forceful advocate — and mentor — for women physicians at Hopkins.
The task force’s findings that “major problems” in the department’s treatment of women — reflected in salary discrepancies and promotions data — prompted immediate efforts to change. In a few years, the number of women associate professors in the department jumped from just four to 26 and salary equity was established. The task force’s methods became a national model.
In 2002, following years of innovative scientific studies on allergic reactions, and countless hours of mentoring female faculty, MacDonald became the first woman associate director of the Department of Medicine. In 2004, she became the 106th woman to be named a full professor at Johns Hopkins. From 2013 until her retirement in 2016, she was interim chief of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
MacDonald, who held other leadership positions at Johns Hopkins and received numerous awards for her work, died on September 9, 2020, after a lengthy illness. She was 59.Reflecting her passion for mentoring, she drafted a booklet entitled How to Get Promoted at Hopkins. It evolved into the Silver Book, which still helps faculty get promoted today.