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Director’s Reflections during Women’s History Month: The Importance of Strong Role Models

Much like Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, society would not exist without both men and women. When the medical school failed to open alongside the Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1889 due to lack of funds, university leaders were hesitant to admit women to say the least. It wasn’t until desperation led them to accept the help of Mary Elizabeth Garrett upon the condition that both men and women be accepted equally based on their merits. And yet, despite their importance in creating our medical school and society in general, it has been a struggle for women to succeed based on their representation in society.

Today, the overt legislation hindering women’s success is gone, but more subtle obstacles remain—obstacles even more vexing and at times harder to overcome. It is still the norm for women to take on more domestic work, and often times meeting schedules can disadvantage the parent with more child care responsibilities. Paths of mentorship are often not blind to gender—women are less likely to be mentored by men than men. Biologically, front-of-mind processes end up favoring men with the standard where behaviors that are considered strong, decisive and markers of leadership for men are viewed in a negative way for women.

Our department, while striving to become a better and more inclusive place, is not immune to these obstacles. For this reason, I am grateful to the Women’s Task Force and the leadership of Rachel Levine for identifying career obstacles facing women faculty and working to offer solutions. One of these solutions entails divisional reviews that ensure equal opportunity for promotion. To help spread our success in this arena across the school, I have co-chaired a task force for the Vice Dean of Faculty Affairs to recommend best practices, including increased transparency, for departments. What we have discovered is that we have nearly equal levels of men and women at the assistant professor level, but the disparity is evident at the professor level. The Women’s Task Force and our divisional review panel aim to combat this disparity by ensuring women have mentors and sponsors so that all faculty have the best advice for promotion. This remains a major departmental goal.

A lot of life is about role models. A perfect state where women are equal to men won’t solve all of society’s ills, but progress will do a lot for the students that come into our field and for women at junior ranks who are hungry for role models. Luckily, we have a rich pool of role models right here in the Department of Medicine. Our department was home to the third woman ever to be made a professor at Hopkins: Caroline Thomas in 1970. Many of these trailblazing women professors remain in our department today:

And these are just women on our faculty. We have strong women leaders in all areas of our department who serve as excellent role models each and every day. I’d like to thank these and all the women who make up our faculty, nurses and staff who inspire future generations and work toward a brighter and more equal future.


Check out the JHM Employee Spotlight on Kathleen Page in honor of Women’s History Month here:


Mark Anderson