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From the Archives

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

“The Role of the Medical School Dean's Wife: Report of a Study”. Journal of Medical Education. 1980;55:668–74.

Wives function to fulfill the role in a variety of ways. Based upon the wives' narrative responses, the authors have constructed a typology. The manner in which the role of the wife of the medical school dean is played is divided into three categories.

The active-role wife perceives herself as having a definite role-representing her husband as dean and the school. A wife writes, “Recognize that both you and your husband represent the leadership of the institution and realize that some people may dislike you and your husband because of institutional decisions.”

Typically, the active-role wife is assertive in pursuing the role. She takes the initiative by engaging in medical school functions as well as participating in organizations related to university activities and community affairs. One wife suggests, “Become acquainted with all aspects of the medical school.” Another wife advises, “Welcome (faculty) wives and get them to know each other and get them involved so they feel a part of the group”.

The passive-role wife does not see herself as actively pursuing a role in the medical school organization. As an example, one wife states, “Have no expectations set but be ready to fill in with expectations of others as they assume importance.” She participates in activities at the request of her husband, or others, but is unlikely to initiate activity herself. Like the active wife, she feels a great need to support her husband in his work. A wife states, “I see my role only as a supportive position to his role.” Another passive role wife writes, “The events themselves are generated without my input.”

The nonparticipant role wife perceives herself as not playing a complementary role in relation to her husband as dean. She is not involved in medical school affairs for one or more of the following reasons: she has not been asked to be involved; she is too new in her role to be involved; her own career responsibilities preclude active involvement; and/or she thinks that the social activities are part of her husband's role and not her own. A wife states, “My husband and the faculty support me being a physician and I participate with them as such.”

© 2003 Association of American Medical Colleges