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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: How the School of Medicine at Stanford University Is Addressing Female Physicians and Leadership


Whenever Hannah Valantine, MD, needs reassurance that female leadership interventions at Stanford University’s School of Medicine are working, she looks at the numbers.

We make this false assumption that your career is going to look the same throughout your life. That’s just not realistic.

—Janet Nagamine, RN, MD, SFHM, hospitalist, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, Santa Clara, Calif., SHM board member

In the span of five to six years, the medical school has increased the percentage of women at each faculty rank so that it now surpasses national averages as calculated by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Indeed, the percentage of women at the full professor rank jumped to 22% from 14.5%.

“We really are making progress,” says Dr. Valantine, full professor of medicine and the medical school’s senior associate dean for diversity and leadership.

With structural elements, such as tenure clock extension, extended maternity and family leave, onsite childcare, early-stage research funding support, and mentoring in place, Dr. Valantine is turning her attention to the next round of interventions, which focus more on the psychological and social factors that impair women’s advancement. She will use a National Institutes of Health grant to develop interventions for the phenomenon of stereotype threat, which is the fear that one's behavior will confirm an existing stereotype about one’s social group. This fear may lead to an impairment of performance.

Over the next six months, Dr. Valantine and her team will also conduct several pilot programs involving map career customization, a model that encourages people to chart their careers over the next five to 10 to 20 years, taking into consideration their life outside of work. The intent is to help individuals identify their priorities and goals and how they change over time, and also help supervisors better match the ebbs and flows of a person’s life to the workplace and identify and develop aspiring leaders.

Stanford’s medical school is organized around teams of doctors that care for groups of patients. Each team must achieve excellence in four academic missions: clinical care, education, research, and administration. The map career customization pilot programs are aimed at helping doctors within the team plan their career paths around these four missions, then put the individual plans together in a team context in order to meet the team’s goals, says Dr. Valantine.

“This way, the work and the four missions are entirely covered,” she says. “We create a vibrant academic environment where we create new things and have time to think and integrate our life and work. … It’s a little countercultural, but I think people are crying out for that, and I think it stands a great chance of making the culture change.”

Stanford’s burgeoning efforts in map career customization have intrigued SHM board member Janet Nagamine, RN, MD, SFHM, a hospitalist at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Clara, Calif., and Stanford alum. She hopes to collaborate with Dr. Valantine and incorporate into hospital medicine the interventions that Stanford is doing while conducting studies and developing workforce planning initiatives specific to hospitalists. The goal is to create a hospital medicine model that replicates Stanford’s success in cultivating female physician leaders.

“We make this false assumption that your career is going to look the same throughout your life,” Dr. Nagamine says. “That’s just not realistic.”

Lisa Ryan is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

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