March 22, 2010

SoM to host ‘A Tribute to 150+ Women Professors’ celebration

Florence Sabin, the famed pathologist, became the first woman given the title of full professor at the 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 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 have changed.

On Thursday, March 25, the School of Medicine 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, to be called “A Tribute to 150+ Women Professors,” will take place at 4 p.m. at the Turner Auditorium on the East Baltimore campus.

“We’ve put an emphasis on this, and it has really paid off,” said Clements, vice dean for faculty and a professor of comparative medicine. “Medicine was a very male-dominated field until about 15 years ago,” she said. “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.”

Edward Miller, dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said, “When we encourage women to advance in their careers at Hopkins, great things happen. 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 the School of Medicine, Clements says, a number that puts Johns 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 Johns 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 said. “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, director of Priority Initiatives for the Department of Medicine.

Among those scheduled to speak at the event are Carol Greider, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for her pioneering work in telomeres and the Daniel Nathans Professor and Director of Molecular Biology and Genetics at Johns Hopkins. Greider became one of just a handful of women to ever win the Nobel in that category. Also on the agenda: Barbara Migeon, the geneticist who became female professor No. 6 in 1978, and Patti Vining, a professor of neurology since her promotion in 2002.

Also addressing the group will be Professor No. 150: Kristy Weber, who, when she became a professor of orthopedic surgery and oncology last summer, became the first woman in the history of Johns Hopkins’ Department of Orthopaedic Surgery to be promoted to professor.

Weber graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1991 and was recruited back to the university in December 2003 to build the Musculoskeletal Oncology Program. Her focus is on bone and soft-tissue cancers. She sees patients, performs surgery and 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.”

When pathologist Barbara Detrick was promoted earlier this year, she became the 155th woman to become a full professor. Only about half the women who have earned the title at Johns 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 said.

There are stereotypes that may scare off women, she says, particularly in surgery, where patients and fellow doctors often expect a man to be performing the operations. Add in the long hours [and] the desire for many women to have families and balance in their lives, and it makes for a difficult equation for many. Weber says that her goal is to “be visible and erase any stereotypes that are untrue.”

“Women have a different approach to patients, and I think some patients are looking for women to be their doctors,” she said. “Some of my women patients are happy to have a woman surgeon. They feel comforted.”

Clements says that 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 1990s, she was the first woman to do so. Now, the lectures are given every year by two men and two women from the faculty.

Clements says that more attention has been paid in recent years to positioning women 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, she says, to discuss the path to full professorship. Johns 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. And some of the “crazy” hours required of doctors have been scaled back in family-friendly ways. In surgery, for example, grand rounds used to be done at Johns Hopkins on Saturday mornings, something that turned off many women considering the university. Now grand rounds are during the week.

Still, progress is slower than some would like. There are, for example, only three department heads at the School of Medicine who are women, including Julie Ann Freischlag, who chairs Surgery.

“When you make a place better for women, you make it better for all faculty,” Freischlag said.

So much is expected of women beyond what happens during the workday, Clements says.

“We don’t just do our professional careers; we do all of the other things we feel responsible for,” she said. “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.”