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M. D. Anderson Scientist, Executive Takes New Post to Advance Women Faculty


The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has launched a new effort to recruit, retain, and develop women faculty, a vital issue among academic medical institutions, where women remain underrepresented on the faculty and heavily concentrated at entry-level ranks.

“Academic medicine has a cultural issue. It’s not intentional, or malicious. It’s just a fact. We are partnering with our division heads and department chairs to help them in this initiative,” says Elizabeth Travis, Ph.D., M. D. Anderson’s first associate vice president for women faculty programs.

Travis, on the faculty since 1982, is a professor in M. D. Anderson’s Departments of Radiation Oncology and of Pulmonary Medicine and served as associate vice president for academic affairs before her new appointment.

“An accomplished scientist and advocate for women in medicine and science throughout her career, she is uniquely suited to this new position responsible for developing and implementing programs dedicated to the advancement of women faculty,” says Margaret Kripke, Ph.D., professor and special assistant to the provost and recently retired executive vice president and chief academic officer, who appointed Travis late last year.

The initiative is important, says Provost and Executive Vice President Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., who joined M. D. Anderson in June after leading Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Tennessee. “I came from an institution where half of the basic science chairs were women and much of the leadership team had a very balanced gender mix. It will be important for the success of M. D. Anderson to make sure we advance the careers of women faculty.”

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges 2006 study of gender and rank in medical schools, 32 percent of medical school faculty are women, which breaks down into 7 percent of instructors, 15 percent of assistant professors (considered the first step for permanent faculty), 6 percent of associate professors and 4 percent of full professors. In leadership ranks, women are 10 percent of deans, department and division chairs. Very few women are found at the top ranks of an institution. The gender demographics of M. D. Anderson faculty do not differ greatly from these numbers, Travis notes.

About half of all medical school graduates and about 45 percent of those earning doctoral degrees in science annually are women, Travis notes. “We have a rich and full pipeline of potential faculty and it’s been that way for a decade or more.”

An advisory committee to Travis will help direct the initiative. Additional projects are development of recognition for leaders who support the advancement and contributions of women faculty; helping women build competencies for leadership positions and skills in navigating institutional politics; and continuing to collect data and providing periodic reports.

Since her appointment late last year, Travis has met individually with department chairs and division heads. A department-by-department analysis of M. D. Anderson’s gender demographics across faculty ranks has been conducted and the results are being shared with department chairs.

Travis is collaborating with M. D. Anderson’s institutional diversity office and faculty development staff to develop a mentoring program for all faculty that will include specific sessions for women.

Another important aspect is to build an academic framework that encompasses gender issues and organizational change. Past efforts, Travis notes, to help women have focused on remedies aimed at skill-building for women in academics. However, rather than “fixing the women, we need to focus on fixing the academic environment instead.”

Barriers to gender equity are less overtly discriminatory than they used to be but are no less deeply rooted, Travis says. For example, long work days coupled with early morning and late afternoon meetings remain business as usual in academic medicine. Long hours stress all of the faculty, men and women regardless of family responsibilities, and are an added burden for women who bear the primary responsibility for family care, which may span generations, from children to elder parents.

Another barrier is subtle gender bias. Research by Wayne State University linguists in 2003 showed that the same curriculum vitae - a very detailed resume used in academia - gets a lower evaluation score when attached to a woman’s name than when attached to a man’s name.

“If women are simply opting out of this career, we need to ask ’What is it about academic medicine that is not attractive to them?’ Or maybe they’re applying and they’re just not getting in. We need to understand that, too,” Travis says.


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