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Dome - 155 and Counting

Dome April 2010

155 and Counting

Date: April 1, 2010

Faculty and staff celebrate a milestone for the school of medicine.

Barbara Fivush and Emma  Stokes
Barbara Fivush (left), director of the Office of Women in Science and Medicine, and Emma Stokes, director of priority initiatives, who was honored recently for mentoring women faculty.

At a recent tribute to women professors in the school of medicine, Eileen “Patti” Vining recalled how a mentor had once summed up her career potential.

“He said, ‘There are two kinds of horses: thoroughbreds and work horses. And you’re a work horse,’” she laughed. “I think I probably lived up to it. If there was a job to be done, I was typically sent to do it. But, as it turns out, we don’t all have to be thoroughbreds—and there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Director of the pediatric epilepsy program, Vining reflected last month on her journey to full professorship before several hundred faculty members gathered in Turner Auditorium.

The event, organized by the Office of Women in Science and Medicine, commemorated 155 women, past and present, who have ascended the faculty ranks to become full professors. It also recognized Emma Stokes, an administrator in the Department of Medicine, for her commitment to mentoring women faculty and her role in developing such gender equity initiatives as Vision 2020.

Praising the efforts of Janice Clements, vice dean for faculty affairs, and Mike Weisfeldt and George Dover, directors of the departments of Medicine and Pediatrics, Hopkins Medicine Dean/CEO Edward Miller noted that 100 of Hopkins’ 155 women professors were promoted during the last 10 years.

“Twenty-one percent of our professors are now women,” Miller said. “We’ll get to 40 percent pretty soon, I think, and that’s exactly where we should be.”
Miller called attention to a harbinger of this change: the growing number of women seeking surgical residencies at Hopkins since Julie Freischlag became the department’s first female director. (Half of the residency applicants are now women, up from 10 percent only seven years ago, according to Freischlag.)

Clements points out that Hopkins is on the “high end” of academic medical centers as far as its percentage of full professors who are women. In addition to having departmental committees and programs that help women develop their careers, the school of medicine has added an assistant deanship for faculty development and equity and has also created the Office of Women in Science and Medicine.

“Medicine is still a difficult place for women,” Clements cautions. “Even though women make up 50 percent of medical school classes and a high percentage of junior faculty ranks, if you look at leadership, at the department directors and deans, you see men.”

At the school of medicine, only three of the 31 department directors are women—the same as in 2005. Changing the culture requires time as well as effort, says Barbara Fivush, director of the Office of Women in Science and Medicine. It often takes 15 years before an assistant professor obtains the necessary credentials to be promoted to full professor, she says. And retaining faculty members for that long requires increasing opportunities for leadership and institutional support.

In addition to the address by Patti Vining, there were presentations by Barbara Migeon, founding director of the graduate program in human genetics; Carol Greider,  2009 Nobel Prize winner; and Kristy Weber, chief of the Division of Orthopedic Oncology.

Foregoing talk of their own achievements, the women spoke instead about inspirations and difficulties. They told of mothers who gave them doctors’ kits as children and about the blinders they put on to push through challenges at work. They spoke of the humbling privilege of serving their patients.

Perhaps most important to their audience, each woman underscored her intention to help others flourish in careers in academic medicine. For Vining, such purpose resonates in the memory of her own promotion.

“The word to describe how I felt is liberated,” she said. “I had done all the proper things. I had lined my duckies up, they were accepted, and, finally, there I was. Now I’m helping my young people to line up their duckies. And I hope I’m succeeding.”

—Linell Smith

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