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Women at Yale School of Medicine: a perspective

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2018 - Spring


So much comes down to basic biological details. For years, common wisdom used the euphemism “plumbing” to describe the essential differences between men and women, as though the organs associated with being male or female determined everything about them—professional opportunities, social boundaries, acceptable fashion, and all the other diverse variables that factor into human identity.

Being born with female “plumbing” brought restrictions, leaving many women imprisoned on the wrong side of the biological divide. Even today women say they have to work twice as hard to enjoy opportunities similar to those of men. Not to mention that women continue to have fewer choices about how to use their “plumbing,” with decisions about their bodies determined by governments, employers, and health insurers in ways very different than for men.

Ironically, it was plumbing that helped Yale School of Medicine open its doors to female students at the beginning of the last century. A timely donation of funds sufficient to build a bathroom for female students changed the scope of what was possible for women, initiating an era in which they assumed their place beside men as medical students at Yale.

This is more than a cute story. Institutional reforms both small and large, combined with the efforts of advocates and pioneers, have helped create the current moment at Yale School of Medicine. The gender mix of our student body reflects the general population. More women are on our faculty, including as administrators and department heads. This truth reflects recruiting initiatives begun in the 1970s and 1980s. In real terms, equality has never been closer on the slow march of progress.

But generations-long biases take generations to change. This issue is dedicated to the brave women from decades ago who laid the groundwork for the present moment, as well as to those who are a part of Yale School of Medicine’s social and professional fabric today. Their voices and perspectives are what will continue to drive Yale School of Medicine to greater levels of success in an increasingly diverse and competitive world.