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Celebrating 100 Years of Women

May 17, 2018
Photo by Robert A. Lisak
Back row, left to right: Nina Stachenfeld, PhD; Barbara Burtness, MD; Merle Waxman; Susan Baserga, MD ’88, PhD ’88; Nancy Angoff, MD ’90, MPH ’81, MEd; Lynn Tanoue, MD ’82. Front row, left to right: Michele Johnson, MD; Elizabeth Jonas, MD; Margaret Bia, MD. Missing from photograph: Deborah Jagielow, Valentina Greco, PhD.

Just over a century ago, Louise Farnam, PhD, Helen May Scoville, and Lillian Nye enrolled at the School of Medicine, opening the door for the many women who followed them. In commemoration of this milestone, on June 1, we will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of women at YSM with Celebration and Reflection, a daylong symposium that will recognize the many contributions that women faculty and alumnae have made to the school, to medicine, and to science.

This is a very special moment for the School of Medicine. The centennial of women at YSM provides an opportunity to reflect upon gender equality at the school—and more broadly in the fields of science and medicine—at a time when the national conversation about how women are treated has taken center stage. While we have made inroads along these lines, we recognize that it is a continuous challenge to ensure that all members of our community are treated equitably and fairly.

Much of the credit for raising awareness around issues of gender equality goes to the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine (SWIM). In 1975, Dean Robert Berliner formed SWIM to work with the newly formed Office for Women in Medicine and advise him on the status of women at the school. Women faculty generously volunteered their time to work on issues related to salary equity, equal access to resources, and equal representation by women on key committees. Today, SWIM continues this work with faculty volunteers who are just as dedicated as the founding members. The Executive Board, co-chaired by Elizabeth Jonas, MD, and Nina Stachenfeld, PhD, regularly meets with YSM leadership and departmental liaisons to collaborate on ongoing initiatives aimed at ensuring that women are treated in an impartial and just manner.

Just as society has acknowledged the need to examine behaviors and policies that have an impact on women, so too has the School of Medicine recognized this need. Through our work with SWIM, the Faculty Advisory Council, and other organizations, we are striving to overcome such barriers as unconscious bias and navigating a career path in the midst of family obligations, while spearheading improvements in such areas as transparency and fairness in compensation. We have made progress in these areas and will continue these efforts with the goal of ensuring that everyone at the medical school feels valued, supported, and respected.

In the meantime, it’s a measure of the importance of the 100-year anniversary that the symposium, co-sponsored by SWIM and the Minority Organization for Retention and Expansion (MORE), promises to be an extraordinary event. Planning committee co-chairs Liz Jonas and Peggy Bia, MD, together with the other members of the committee, have worked tirelessly to ensure that it will be a fitting tribute to the many women who have been a part of YSM during the past century and an inspiration to all of us.