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Why Aren't There More Women Leaders in Academic Medicine? The Views of Clinical Department Chairs

Yedidia, Michael J. PhD; Bickel, Janet MA

Academic Medicine:
Educating Physicians: Research Reports

Purpose: A scarcity of women in leadership positions in academic medicine has persisted despite their increasing numbers in medical training. To understand the barriers confronting women and potential remedies, clinical department chairs with extensive leadership experience were interviewed.

Method: In 1998–99, open-ended interviews averaging 80 minutes in length were conducted with 34 chairs and two division chiefs in five specialties. Individuals were selected to achieve a balance for gender, geographic locale, longevity in their positions, and sponsorship and research intensity of their institutions. The interviews were audiotaped and fully transcribed, and the themes reported emerged from inductive analysis of the responses using standard qualitative techniques.

Results: The chairs' responses centered on the constraints of traditional gender roles, manifestations of sexism in the medical environment, and lack of effective mentors. Their strategies for addressing these barriers ranged from individual or one-on-one interventions (e.g., counseling, confronting instances of bias, and arranging for appropriate mentors) to institutional changes (e.g., extending tenure probationary periods, instituting mechanisms for responding to unprofessional behavior, establishing mentoring networks across the university).

Conclusion: The chairs universally acknowledged the existence of barriers to the advancement of women and proposed a spectrum of approaches to address them. Individual interventions, while adapting faculty to requirements, also tend to preserve existing institutional arrangements, including those that may have adverse effects on all faculty. Departmental or school-level changes address these shortcomings and have a greater likelihood of achieving enduring impact.

Author Information

Dr. Yedidia is associate professor, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University. Ms. Bickel is associate vice president, Division of Institutional Planning and Development, Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC.

Correspondence and requests for reprints should be addressed to Dr. Yedidia, Center for Health and Public Service Research, Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University, 726 Broadway, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10003; telephone: (212) 998-7447; e-mail: 〈〉.

This research was funded in part by grants from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Commonwealth Fund.

© 2001 Association of American Medical Colleges