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Leadership Opportunities for Women in Academic Medicine

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Leadership Opportunities for Women in Academic Medicine

Nov 19, 2023

We can't talk about the challenges facing women in academia without talking about a dearth of opportunities for meaningful leadership. So what kinds of changes can have a positive impact? Exposure to coaching, mentoring, and guidance is a good first step. Immersion in community and leadership training is another. April Mohanty, PhD, MPH, Vice Chair for EDI in the Department of Internal Medicine, joins Michael Rubin, MD, PhD, MPH, Vice Chair for Faculty Affairs and Faculty Development in the Department of Internal Medicine, to talk about charting a new course for women leaders at University of Utah Health.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Welcome to conversations between colleagues with at AAMC Learn Serve Lead. We're exploring the innovative ideas that are shaping the landscape of academic medicine. 

In this episode, we get the opportunity to listen to a conversation between Dr. April Mohanty, Vice Chair for EDI in the Department of Internal Medicine at University of Utah Health, and Dr. Michael Rubin, Vice Chair for Faculty Affairs and Faculty Development in the Department of Internal Medicine at University of Utah Health.

So when it comes to providing these opportunities to develop more women leaders in academic medicine, let's start the conversation with some of the challenges that face women becoming leaders in academic medicine. Dr. Mohanty, why don't you kick that off?

Dr. Mohanty: Women, I think we struggle with getting pulled in a lot of different directions at this stage. Certainly with our academic goals, and then there's, I think, a challenge too that there's not as many role models in leadership as women. And we're getting pulled both in terms of, like I said, academic goals and challenges, but also just things like work-life integration and trying to navigate all of that. So, yeah, I think those are some of the things for sure.

Dr. Rubin: What I would say, in addition to what Dr. Mohanty has said, when you talk about the challenges for women in academia, I think one of the biggest challenges is the challenge of opportunity. And a lot of times these opportunities just don't exist to the same extent as they do for men. And there are many different reasons for that.

One of them is that I think a lot of women faculty don't get the same type of exposure to leadership and, as Dr. Mohanty said, the same type of coaching or mentorship or guidance from leaders, and so they don't have that same experience.

And a lot of times when leadership opportunities open up, women faculty are often not the first people that are thought of because they don't have that same level of exposure and guidance from people who are in those positions to grant those opportunities. So, that's one of the things we're trying to address.

Interviewer: And what is the solution to this problem? I suppose there are a lot of solutions, there are a lot of different ways you could tackle this problem, but discuss some of the possible ones.

Dr. Mohanty: Yeah, so we're really excited. There are a lot of great trainings, both at the University of Utah leadership trainings and AAMC has trainings. We get bombarded with a lot of these opportunities.

So, I think one of the great things that through this program we've been able to do is just provide that in a way that's more organized, and help our participants kind of think ahead on the timing and making sure that they can actually take the time to do these things intentionally and engage in these things.

And we're also ensuring that they have the resources, whether financial, through our program to be able to take these trainings. And then there are other more flexible parts that try to fill in where there may be gaps and specific interests that women are interested in that are kind of electives.

And I'll let Mike maybe take it from there on those parts.

Dr. Rubin: Sure. One of the things that we do have at the University of Utah are a lot of training opportunities for leadership. There are a multitude of seminars and workshops and other trainings that anybody can take.

And the issue I would say with that is that many of them are . . . I mean, they're all optional. They're elective. People can take them if and when they want. And I think what happens is people just don't feel like they have the opportunity to take advantage of that.

So they're very busy, they have a lot of different things going on in their careers, and taking the time or making the time for these different opportunities is very difficult. And especially, I would say, for women faculty who already have a lot of competing priorities inside and outside of work.

And so what we try to do with this program that we're creating is to, as Dr. Mohanty said, help them create the space for it but also create the infrastructure so that within a concentrated period of time, they can plan for these activities and opportunities and engage with them. So by the time they've finished with the program, they've done a lot more than probably they would have otherwise because we've given them the resources and the time and the opportunity to do that.

Dr. Mohanty: I think another wonderful aspect of this program is that there's the immersion part of it where the participants are actually getting kind of exposure to leadership, attending meetings, and kind of being involved, more engaged while they're completing the training. So it's much more applied.

And then in addition, there's the community aspect where the 11 participants are kind of gaining that cohort effect and hopefully being able to share ideas and experiences as they go through their program and develop that very essential networking aspect of becoming leaders in academic medicine.

Dr. Rubin: Yeah. The immersion is kind of one of the big parts of this program. It's in the title. It's the Leadership Immersion Program.

For us, I think it serves two purposes. One is to, like you said, have these individuals immersed in leadership so that they are around leaders more, they see what leaders do, and they can see what's going on in the department in leadership positions and how different leaders make decisions or take action in different things. And so they get more exposure to how leadership is done on a day-to-day basis.

But also, it serves the purpose . . . kind of like what I had mentioned before, which is when opportunities arise, we want our leaders to be thinking of them when openings happen or new opportunities arise.

And so it helps them to understand leadership better and to understand the experience of leadership better, but also, it brings them to the forefront when new opportunities arise so that they're the first ones to be thought of.

Dr. Mohanty: Yeah. And a wonderful part to that immersion piece is that we've been able to do these journal clubs that happen in the evenings at our chair's . . . he's been very generous to host us at his home and have dinner. We meet with the other vice chairs and division chiefs.

So there's that opportunity, again, to kind of network and build those relationships with established leaders and with our participants. And they facilitate relevant discussions on leadership skills, important conversations, being able to hold crucial conversations. Great, relevant topics as they become leaders in our center.

Dr. Rubin: Yeah. The journal club was probably the idea that really started all of this. And it was the idea of our department chair, John Inadomi. I think he wanted to start this journal club as a means of bringing department leadership together to talk about leadership and to read about leadership and to have more camaraderie among leadership so that people feel more comfortable talking about these topics and learning from them.

And what we had done after that idea started getting bounced around was to say, "How can we make this a little bit more than that? And can we invite other people to this type of event, especially people who we would like to introduce more to leadership and get them more comfortable with this idea of leadership?"

And so the journal club kind of expanded to include some faculty who we think would be interested in leadership, and then we kind of expanded from there to make it more of a program where we're actually including other things besides the journal club so that they can have more experiences with leadership, with our department leaders, with trainings, and other things like that.

Interviewer: I'd like to jump in on this journal club idea, because you said it was kind of the core, the beginning of this whole thing. Talk me through what exactly it was. You say, "Hey, we're going to do a journal club." Well, first of all, what kind of reaction did you get when you said that? And then from an execution standpoint, what happens at the journal clubs?

Dr. Rubin: Well, I'll say it was our department chair's idea to do the journal club. And so my reaction . . .

Interviewer: That helps.

Dr. Rubin: Yes. My reaction was like, "Oh, a journal club. Okay."

Interviewer: Was it really? So you were just a little skeptical maybe, or . . .?

Dr. Rubin: A little skeptical. I mean, it is a good idea, but again, it's one of those things where you're like, "Okay, who's really going to jump at this idea to go to a journal club, especially when you're talking about leadership topics?"

But the idea behind a journal club is to identify a piece, whether it's a journal article or maybe a chapter from a book or something like that, that each person is asked to read, and then you kind of dive deeply into it and have conversations around what's the meaning behind it and how does that affect or impact us. They can be very interesting and fruitful conversations, especially when you get people committed to doing that.

And so we thought that if we can get other department leaders, in particular division chiefs, to sign up for that, then we would have a good core to start with.

And then having the other faculty as part of this leadership immersion program, participating with that, then that sort of brings a different aspect to not only are they discussing a topic, but they're helping these folks to understand it and teach a little bit along the way.

Interviewer: Dr. Mohanty, your thoughts on that journal club? Did you think it would work?

Dr. Mohanty: Yeah. And I thought it was exciting to just be able to . . . I'm one year into my vice chair role, so I'm looking for all opportunities to grow into this role. So yeah, I think I was pretty excited about it.

Interviewer: And how many people showed up for that first one?

Dr. Mohanty: For the first one, probably . . .

Dr. Rubin: Everybody. There were probably, let's see, over 20 people.

Interviewer: Wow. And how did you sell that to get that kind of response? I mean, I would've expected maybe a couple people to be like, "Oh, I'm kind of curious."

Dr. Rubin: Well, it comes from the department chair.

Interviewer: Okay. So the lesson . . .

Dr. Mohanty: Food is involved. Very good food.

Dr. Rubin: Food. Yeah, that's a big one too.

Interviewer: So we're learning two lessons. First of all, if it comes from the top, that helps. And if you've got some food, that helps as well.

Did you face any challenges or anything? And then if not, tell me about some of the successes that have come out of these discussions.

Dr. Mohanty: I mean, I think one helpful thing is that this is once every other month, so the journal clubs are not so frequent that it's challenging that way.

We also did collect some information on a survey about best ways to make sure that this journal club is meeting the needs of participants about timing and even the food. So, just making sure it's kind of meeting what people . . . what their needs are.

Yeah, go ahead if you have thoughts, Mike.

Dr. Rubin: I mean, I think the journal club served a number of purposes. It is a great way to have conversations about leadership and for the people in the program to learn about these leaders and how they do it and how they think about it.

But it is also a way to bring together department leadership as well as this group in a social setting. And I think it was something that we do as a department in a social level that maybe we weren't doing as much before.

So I think it does bring people together, and I think people really enjoy the experience, and it kind of helps everybody be more comfortable with each other and comfortable talking about topics like these.

Scot: So that's just one component of then this overall Leadership Immersion Program. What are some of the other aspects that you added on later, and what was the reason for that?

Dr. Mohanty: So, a couple weeks ago, we had our mid-program retreat, two days. And I just thought it was a huge success. I think everyone really appreciated . . . They actually mentioned that the participants think it would be great to have this even sooner in the program, something like this.

It was a great way for our participants to all be together. We had a facilitator kind of walk us through journeys of leadership, thinking about kind of what your vision is as a leader, being very intentional. And also, we had an amazing leadership panel of established women leaders in our institution kind of talk about the experiences and their journey to leadership. I think it was a very fruitful discussion.

Dr. Rubin: Yeah, the retreat was fantastic. And we utilized, again, some of the resources we have at the university, including a lot of the teachings of Tony Tsai, who does a lot of our faculty development for the university. And so, he's a fantastic resource for leading discussions and conversations around leadership.

I think everybody really appreciated the attention and the ability to just get together as a small group and talk about the issues that they're facing and the challenges they're facing as they take on leadership positions and try to work towards other leadership positions.

One of the main reasons for organizing a program like this, like I think I said earlier, was to try to help take advantage of all the different resources that we have at the university, and do it in a way that allows people to organize it over a specific period of time.

So in this case, we wanted this to be a two-year program. The idea is at the end of the two years, they will plan for and take advantage of all of these different opportunities and have all of that experience to draw on so that they're ready for any leadership opportunities that come along.

And we wanted to include as many of these things as possible without sort of overloading them with too much. But we thought one thing that was really important for them to have was mentorship from a leader at the university.

So, each of the participants is asked to identify a leadership mentor at the university, so somebody who maybe is a role model for them or somebody they look up to, who can help them and help guide them in their current leadership responsibilities, and to understand some of the challenges they faced as they took on leadership positions so that they have mentorship from a very specific leadership standpoint.

And they can meet with them as often as they think is necessary, whether it's once a month or once every several months. It's really up to them to decide that.

Another thing that we wanted them to do was to complete what we call a career development plan. And we sort of modified a very traditional career development plan into something that we call a leadership development plan, which is a document that they would complete where they can explore and try to understand and engage in some self-reflection about what kind of skills or other tools or resources they might need in their journey to become leaders.

And then identify some very specific goals that they have for leadership, which they can then talk about with their mentors and with their peers and others.

And so, again, these are just some of the other components of the program we tried to include as well.

Scot: Would you say that it's safe to say that a big component of this is just getting people together and talking and creating relationships?

Dr. Rubin: Yeah.

Interviewer: I mean, it sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Dr. Mohanty: Agree. Yeah.

Dr. Rubin: We sort of organized it around six different components. One of those components we call community, and that's really what it is. We're trying to create a community of potential leaders. We want them to get to know each other as well as our department leaders.

And our hope is as they grow into leaders themselves, they have other people within the group that are also becoming leaders. And so they're becoming leaders together, and they have that cohort that they all know from this experience.

Interviewer: And then what are the other components?

Dr. Rubin: So the way we've organized it is that there are three components that we consider to be required components, and then the other three are optional.

So the three required components . . . community is one. And that's where, again, through the journal club and through other experiences like the retreat, they get to know each other. They get to know department leaders. And that just forms this community of future leaders that we hope will know each other and grow together.

The other two required components, one is mentoring. So I mentioned that. Each of them has a leadership mentor that they've identified, and they complete the leadership development plan as part of that.

And then the third required component is this idea of immersion. So we wanted each of them to be immersed in leadership over the two years of this program so that they can experience all different aspects of leadership. They can see how leadership is performed and what kinds of decisions people are making and how they make those decisions, and then just see what it's like to be a leader in the Department of medicine.

So we have mentoring, immersion, and community as the required components.

Dr. Mohanty: We're also really thinking that each participant has their own kind of needs in terms of skills that they're trying to acquire through this program.

So the three other components are coaching. And so there's, for instance, the mid-career coaching program through . . . The University of Utah has some senior leadership coaching and peer coaching opportunity trainings, skills training. So, there's a menu of short-term courses, seminars, and other trainings for things on running meetings, finances for school of medicine or department level, formal mentoring training, and then also the leadership training. So that's the third sort of optional component.

And that's things like . . . AAMC has the leadership training opportunities and the University of Utah also has a leadership training series. So those are all some of the different optional coaching, skills training, and leadership training.

Interviewer: And if an institution was interested in trying to have a more formalized program to empower women physicians to become leaders, to give them the skills that they need, what would you say to them? Where should they start?

Dr. Rubin: We have a number of resources available, and Dr. Mohanty has highlighted some of them. I wouldn't say they're scattered, but they're not organized in a way that people can very efficiently engage in a certain set of activities that will give them an experience that might overall prepare them for, in this case, leadership.

And so what we wanted to do was try to collect everything that we know about, both here at the university and external to the university, all of those things that they could do, and then organize it, or at least provide an infrastructure for it so that, again, over a specific period of time, in our case two years, they can plan it out and execute that.

So they're doing what they would like to do and get the experience they would like to have without necessarily having to just be on their own and do it in a way that might not be as organized or they might not be able to find the time for it if they were kind of just having to do it on their own.

Each institution, if they're interested in something like this, probably has their own menu of leadership training courses or seminars. They also are probably well aware of external trainings, like through the AAMC. They probably also have some form of coaching program. All of these things that exist there, but they're just not organized in a way allows people to follow a set course over two years, or whatever the duration is that they would like, so that they emerge on the other side having accomplished all of those things.

I mean, that was really what I was trying to get at with this program, was to provide a framework for all of these trainings without having to develop all of these different trainings, because they already exist there, both at the university and elsewhere. But just provide this framework so that people could engage in a very sort of set schedule, and feel like at the end of that particular period of time, they will have accomplished and experienced a great deal that helps prepare them for leadership when that opportunity comes.

Dr. Mohanty: Yeah. Again, the leadership development plan really sets out a great kind of format to be thinking about how you want to structure your own personalized sort of leadership growth plan. So I think that would be sort of an initial step that another institution could easily implement, I would think.

Interviewer: Well, thank you very much for spending time to discuss this important issue of developing women leaders in academic medicine. Dr. Mohanty and Dr. Rubin, appreciate your time and your expertise.

Dr. Mohanty: Thank you so much.

Dr. Rubin: Thank you.