Focus on Diversity
The Advancement of Women in Medicine Committee is Leading Change
Formed in 2016, the Advancement of Women in Medicine Committee aims to identify and address inequities and foster a more just work environment for women in medicine. Consisting of 18 female and two male physicians from the Department of Medicine who work diligently on broad-based policy issues to help peers advance their careers, the committee’s ultimate goal is to ensure that more women secure the well-earned clinical and academic leadership roles they deserve.
The group is led by current chairs Katherine Wrenn, MD, primary care physician and Associate Program director for the Primary Care Track, and Meghan York, MD, cardiologist and Chair of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital–Needham. “This committee is important to me and my fellow female physicians here at BIDMC, but also for all women across medicine,” says Jessica Zerillo, MD, former committee chair and Senior Medical Director of Patient Safety and Director of Quality for the Leon V. and Marilyn L. Rosenberg Clinical Cancer Center. “If you look at who holds the highest-ranking academic positions at Harvard Medical School, you will see fewer and fewer women represented at each level—we want to change that.” With the support of Mark Zeidel, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine, the committee is working to elevate women along the entire academic spectrum, from instructor all the way to full professor.
York joined the group shortly after Zerillo. “Even before becoming a member of this group, I was working at a national level to combat gender inequity in cardiology,” says York. “After seeing how problem-solving-oriented the committee is, I knew I wanted to get involved here at BIDMC.” An initiative that caught York’s attention was the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine, known as C-Change (for Culture Change) survey, which was administered to the Department of Medicine faculty. The C-Change survey is for specific use in STEM fields to identify issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, so that all individuals can feel included and engaged in their work environment. Its results provided the Department of Medicine with valuable data on areas of inequity that can serve as a base for change.
Two successful changes spearheaded by the committee under Zerillo’s leadership are improving local childcare accessibility and attaining longer leave time for new parents. These projects, in collaboration with Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians, highlight the committee’s commitment to equity. Today, there is childcare available for faculty steps from the medical center’s campus, and the new parental leave protocol gives leave to both the birth-parent and the partner of the birth-parent. Now, if there is a new child in the home, the parent’s leave—regardless of gender—is longer and more impactful than it was previously.
Beyond the policy changes the committee is bringing about, Aarti Asnani, MD, is appreciative of the many opportunities the committee has offered her as a member. As Director of the BIDMC Cardio-Oncology Program, Asnani values the chance to engage with and build relationships with senior faculty at BIDMC and beyond. “Learning the way in which distinguished women here at BIDMC have navigated their career challenges is invaluable to junior faculty members,” says Asnani. Recently, she received a grant through the Department of Medicine to attend a course on Career Advancement and Leadership Skills for Women in Healthcare at Harvard Medical School. Experiences like this provide a great opportunity to learn skills that are not taught in medical school, she points out. “It’s important to have the skills to negotiate a salary or be prepared to take on a leadership role in either a clinical or research setting,” says Asnani. “These skills enable me to consistently push my career forward.”
Philanthropy is vital to the committee’s success and to ensuring that female physicians can attend meetings and conferences across the country and host speakers, as well as other professional development events that help build the skills necessary to bridge gender gaps and advance careers. The committee helps to reinforce what it means to be both a physician and a professor—to collaborate, provide compassionate care, and translate data into lifesaving medicine.
If you would like to learn more about the Committee for the Advancement of Women in Medicine, please contact Noreen Mitchell at Noreen.Mitchell@bilh.org.