The disparity is striking – more than half of U.S. medical students are women, while women account for only 18 percent of medical school deans, 19 percent of department chairs, and 26 percent of full professors.
Those statistics, published last year in the PLOS ONE peer-reviewed research journal, are indicative of the kind of data that gave birth in 1995 to the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program for Women — a program hosted by the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia that is designed to help “increase and sustain the number and impact of women in academic leadership positions in the health sciences.”
Dr. Alison Netski, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral health as well as interim vice dean of clinical affairs at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, recently completed the prestigious, highly competitive one-year, part-time fellowship program which includes three week-long, in-person sessions and an exacting remote curriculum. The more than 1,200 alumnae of the ELAM program hold executive leadership positions at 269 academic health organizations.
“Purposeful development and advancement of a diverse leadership team,” Netski said, “better positions an institution to meet the needs of the community and student body that it serves. The (ELAM) program…focuses on academic health care structure, diversity, equity and inclusion, leading teams, negotiations, economics, and conflict management in addition to others. The ELAM program provides the experience and tools to assess your own organization through a different lens and be more strategic in advancing the mission.”
Netski isn’t the first medical professional at UNLV to have completed the program that initially limited fellowships to women representing medical schools. It has expanded to include fellows from dental, pharmacy, and public health schools as well as fellows from international medical schools. Dr. Lily Garcia, the former associate dean for education at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics who became dean of the UNLV School of Dental Medicine in 2019, is a 2006 fellow of the ELAM program.
“It had a profound impact on my leadership skills that enabled significant contributions to institutional capacity building,” Garcia said. “I used the skills and network to build an outstanding administrative team here — associate deans and department chairs at UNLV Dental Medicine. That team has gained an in-depth understanding of what it takes to advance our academic dental institution and raise our professional profile and expectations as a key partner within the nascent academic health initiative for Nevada.”
Dr. Deborah Kuhls, an assistant dean of research at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, where she also is a professor of surgery and director of the Surgical Critical Care Fellowship Program, completed her ELAM Fellowship in 2013.
A former president of the Clark County Medical Society and current medical director of the UMC Trauma Intensive Care Unit, Kuhls said, “ELAM is an outstanding opportunity for professional development in so many ways. The pre-fellowship…evaluation and…assessment equips each fellow with new…insights into themselves. The didactics, readings, discussions, and application of knowledge to real-life challenges in academia give the individual an opportunity to actively participate in time-limited problem-solving with group members with differing personalities and backgrounds…ELAM has provided me the leadership skills to be a nimble leader across professional organizations and across NSHE institutions.”
Gender inequities in leadership positions have drawn the attention of many health care organizations, including the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). In a 2019 article on the AAMC’s website, “Where Are All the Women Deans?” Dr. John Prescott, chief academic officer, said, “Inequities can affect a school’s ability to recruit, retain, and keep engaged, talented faculty. Ultimately, that has a negative impact on our students and our patients.” In the same article, Dr. Sashal Shillcutt, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said, “When committees consider women for opportunities, you hear things like, ‘She just had a baby,’ or ‘We would consider her, but she has three kids.’ These are things that never come up with men who are in the same rank.”
Deans of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine are supporters of ELAM. In 2021, Dr. Barbara Atkinson, the founding dean of the medical school and the only woman to head three medical schools in the U.S., was presented the Woman in Medicine Award during the second annual Women's Leadership Summit co-sponsored by ELAM and hosted by Drexel University and the Women in Medicine and Science Committee.
Dr. Marc Kahn, the current dean of the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, nominated Netski for the ELAM Fellowship.
“Her experience with ELAM will give her the resources to help us develop a more robust faculty development program,” he said. “Dr. Netski has already established herself as a leader in our school. Through ELAM she will become an even more effective leader.”