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Showing the Way

Showing the Way


The Department of Medicine has been a pioneer in advancing the career interests of its minority and female faculty. About 10 years ago, former Department of Medicine Director Jack Stobo created a task force to deal with issues specific to women faculty, and recently, Director Mike Weisfeldt set up the first departmental diversity council in the School of Medicine.

Now, Medicine also has created the first underrepresented-minority visiting professorship, a program that will bring leading academic clinician scientists here from other schools to lecture and mentor Hopkins' minority faculty, residents and students.

Endocrinologist Gary Wand, chair of Medicine's diversity council, explains that the low number of minority senior faculty makes it difficult for underrepresented junior faculty to find role models who can encourage their career development and shepherd them through issues unique to their situation. "The contributions of outstanding clinician scientists don't get enough attention," Wand says. "Showcasing those accomplishments will send a positive message to our minority junior faculty that academic career paths are open to them."

According to a recent analysis by the Association of American Medical Colleges of 50,000 full-time medical faculty, minority faculty are promoted at lower rates than white faculty, after adjusting for such variables as type of department and medical school. "Academic medicine isn't doing a good job," asserts David Nichols, vice dean for education, "in attracting minorities and keeping those we do have. In fact, compared to the United States military or the corporate world, academic medicine is far behind."

Nichols points out that minorities make up 10 percent to 20 percent of Hopkins' medical school classes, and form about 8 percent of faculty in the instructor and assistant professor ranks. But only 2.7 percent of full professors are underrepresented minorities, and only one is female. Why minority faculty leave before they reach the top, according to Nichols, is unclear. But the dean's office is committed to improving career opportunities for faculty. "The Department of Medicine always has been out in front in dealing with diversity," he adds, "and this visiting professorship is just the latest example."

Medicine's diversity council also is undertaking a three- to five-year study to nail down the reasons why retention and promotion of minority faculty have lagged. The council is launching other diversity programs, such as matching its 30 minority residents and fellows with mentors and recruiting the best fourth-year medical school students from around the country for a minority clerkship. "We'll be using the results of our study and evaluations of these other diversity initiatives to come up with a program that will make the department more attractive for minority faculty," Wand says. "If we're successful, this could become a model for the rest of the School."

For the first visiting professor, the diversity committee tapped Juanita Merchant, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and a Howard Hughes investigator. Merchant, who earned both her medical and postgraduate degrees from Yale, is a noted researcher who has won numerous scientific awards for her study of the mechanisms that control normal and cancerous cell growth in the gastrointestinal tract. Merchant was chosen from a list of outstanding minority physician scientists supplied to the council by Hopkins faculty. "She came out on top of our list," Wand says.