To the Editor:
The American Medical Association’s September Women in Medicine Month is a national effort showcasing the accomplishments of women physicians, scientists, educators, and leaders in medicine, working to advance gender equity in health care. 1,2 The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the added burdens for women in academic medicine leading on the frontlines. 3 Although the pandemic has prohibited physical gatherings, it has offered an opportunity to redefine how we build community. Our approach was to thoughtfully engage our institution’s department of medicine in recognizing female colleagues’ contributions.
Our Program for Women in Internal Medicine (PWIM) at Duke University led a celebration of “Sheroes.” We defined Sheroes as women faculty and trainees who exemplified excellence in clinical work, leadership, research, community dedication, personal balance, and more. We solicited nominations through a weekly departmental newsletter, direct emails to program directors and division chiefs, and social media posts. We collected nominations via electronic survey—anyone could nominate any female faculty member or trainee in our department.
The response was inspirational: We received 177 Sheroes submissions, nominating 136 unique individuals out of 481 total women faculty and trainees across the department. We featured every nominee on the departmental website with their commendations. Twenty-five of these women, including 10 from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, were highlighted on the department’s Twitter account, and they also reflected diversity of academic rank and specialty.
The Sheroes campaign was a bright moment for many during a difficult year. Nominations included such compliments as “She goes above and beyond for everyone she interacts with including patients, their families, her colleagues, and her mentees,” and “She is a role model for all of us to look up to.” Example reactions from nominated women included, “I am as strong as the females that surround me,” and “I know what all our team has done since March. But it really meant so much to see that other people recognize it too.”
We see all women in our department as Sheroes, and their contributions deserve to be celebrated. But how do we acknowledge the value of these individuals on a regular, deliberate basis? We believe that doing so represents critical support for women physicians on their career paths, and academic medical centers should commit to such outward recognition along with changing structural factors. As networking organizations like PWIM create virtual and in-person programming, we aim to be deliberate about building community, encouraging sponsorship to promote women’s academic advancement, and driving substantial change to encourage women’s success.
1. American Medical Association. Women in Medicine Month. https://www.ama-assn.org/amaone/women-medicine-month
. Accessed January 11, 2021.
3. Roberts LW. Women and academic medicine, 2020. Acad Med. 2020;95:1459–1464.