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Spotlight: University of Arkansas Women's Caucus Advising Program

by Glenda Cooper, M.A. and Valarie Clark, M.P.A.

In 1997, the AAMC awarded the University of Arkansas Medical School Women's Faculty Development Caucus the first ever organizational Women in Medicine Leadership Award, in recognition of its professional development initiatives. The prestigious national honor recognizes individuals and organizational contributions to advancing women leaders in academic medicine. In 2006, the Arkansas program is still growing strong, building upon goals and evidence-based practices established over 15 years ago.

How did the UAMS Women's Caucus Advising program become so successful? What can other programs learn from its evolution? The history of the UAMS program, its structure and the mentoring tools they developed serve as a model for mentoring programs in academic medicine.

Building an Evidenced-Based Mentoring Program

The mentoring program for UAMS grew out of awareness that women faculty were not advancing to positions of leadership in the institution. In 1989, Dr. Debra Fiser, now dean of UAMS College of Medicine and Dr. Teresita Angtuaco recruited other women faculty to organize a women's caucus with a mission "to inspire, encourage, and enable women physicians and scientist to realize their professional and personal goals."

When caucus leaders approached former Dean I. Dodd Wilson, they presented ample evidence to support the development of a model program. After a broad search of the literature caucus leaders identified several elements to ensure success for faculty in academic medicine

The UAMS Women's Caucus External Link leaders made a strategic decision to invest their energy in ensuring that women faculty seeking a mentor found one.

Their efforts seemed more urgent after taking a closer look at their small numbers of women at UAMS in 1993.

Out of a total of 550 faculty members, there were only 15 women professors, 31 associate professors, one department chair, 3 associate deans, and no assistant deans.

In addition, the leaders of the Women's Caucus began with a survey to determine reasons for slow academic advancement of women at UAMS. Survey results revealed that Arkansas women faculty were not aware of the "unwritten or informal rules" of promotion and tenure. Clearly, the faculty were not going to advance without programs to help them understand the rules of promotion. As the Women's Caucus continued to identify women's needs and generate ideas, there was a clear need to recruit staff to lead the mentoring initiative.

Addressing the Informal Rules of Advancement

Now the Director of Faculty Affairs, Glenda Cooper, MA, a historian, educator, and advocate for women's equity issues in politics, was recruited in 1992 to oversee the newly launched UAMS Women's Advising Program.

The goal of the UAMS Advising Program External Link was simple: to develop tools for helping faculty learn the UAMS landscape. Working closely with the Women's Caucus, Cooper initiated a search of existing campus resources for faculty. The result was the Fill in the Gaps Absolutely Unofficial Faculty Survival Handbook (FIGS), a practical introduction to Little Rock, central Arkansas, and the UAMS campus.

Now in its 11th edition, FIGS serves as a reference handbook for all new UAMS faculty, house staff, administrative staff, and recruits. It offers resources including the history of Arkansas, community events, childcare, and valuable professional development opportunities.

Additionally, a Directory of Women in Medicine and Science was published to identify women faculty and their educational and scientific interests to help locate mentoring resources and encourage networking. With resources in place, the senior women members of the Caucus developed a 15-item needs and skills assessment instrument completed by both the advisor and protégé. The inventory describes a range of skills from scientific writing, curriculum development, presentation and communication skills, to clinical skills. Responses highlight strengths and challenges or learning opportunities of both the advisor and protégé. The feedback also serves as useful matching information for mentoring partners.

The Women's Caucus is staffed by the Office of Faculty Affairs. Cooper serves as the liaison between the Women's Caucus leadership and the membership. Through the Faculty Affairs office, valuable skill-building training sessions on CV review, presentations skills and research design and funding are offered to all faculty seeking to improve and expand their skill set.

Cooper describes the role of the office in the mentoring program as, a clearinghouse for resource information. The mentor is never alone or without resources. The Faculty Affairs office recognizes that the mentor/protégé program does not replace the need for departmental mentoring; this program simply is a way to help junior women faculty members set goals to ensure a successful and productive academic career."

Mentoring Tools Support Effective Mentor-Protégé Relationships

The Caucus learned of program gaps through mentor/protégé experiences and exchanges. In response to valuable feedback and recommendations from mentors and protégés, the Women's Advising Program created several valuable mentoring tools to provide clear guidelines for mentors and protégés.

The Advisor's Mentor Brochure is now distributed to all new College of Medicine women who are interested in participating in the program. The brochure briefly describes the Women's Caucus, overall advising program, and asks for demographic information as well as skills and needs requests.

Once the mentor agrees to serve as an advisor/mentor they receive the Advisor's Mentor Handbook that delineates the program requirements and responsibilities, answers frequently asked questions, clarifies the College of Medicine's promotion and tenure guidelines, and concludes with pearls of wisdom about a career in academic medicine.

When the mentor and protégé are matched they schedule an introductory meeting to review and sign the Advising Agreement. The protégé is instructed to send her CV to the advisor in advance and to be prepared to discuss short and long term career goals so the first meeting is productive. The agreement reminds the pair that the relationship is a one-year voluntary commitment. The agreement outlines clear expectations of both parties. After review and agreement, both the mentor and protégé must sign the agreement to officially start of the program.

Measures of Success

After experiencing years of interest and energy from senior women, the Women's Caucus found itself with a challenge to reward and recruit new advisors. The mentoring committee is revising the committee to have a dual approach to advising by keeping the one-on-one careers advising and establishing advising committees specifically for scientists and clinical educators. To raise awareness and bring attention to the advising program, the Caucus established an annual Outstanding Women Faculty Award External Link for mentoring, leadership, and scholarship five years ago. The prestigious UAMS award is held in high regard by the faculty and seen as tremendous honor. Cooper remarked, "The mentor award has provided the much needed attention and recognition on mentoring we needed." Now mentors are beginning to share their positive mentoring experiences with colleagues."

UAMS' current women's advancement picture is impressive compared to a decade ago. According to the AAMC Women in U.S. Academic Medicine: Statistics and Medical Schools Benchmarking report, in 2004-2005, UAMS College of Medicine counted women as 55 professors, 70 associate professors, 5 department chairs, 3 associate deans, and 2 assistant deans out a total of 1,048 faculty. The Caucus has had a remarkable span of leaders and participation on the Caucus Executive Committee provided a training ground for leadership.

The mentoring program is seen as a major contributor of preparing UAMS women faculty for promotion, tenure, and leadership positions. In ten years only two protégés of over 80 have been denied promotion. One marker of success is the August 2006 naming of the founder of the Women's Caucus, Dr. Debra H. Fiser as dean of the UAMS College of Medicine. Three of six colleges at UAMS are headed by women now.

Currently, the UAMS mentoring program boasts close to eighty mentor/protégé pairings. In a few cases it's been difficult to predict personality differences and the pairings were reassigned. Remarkably, the matches have been successful particularly with more refined guidelines and expectations. According to Cooper, approximately 90 percent of the pairings have been satisfied with the mentor/protégé relationship.

Ms. Cooper shared, "The impact of the mentoring engine that the Women's Caucus has been has played a strong role—everything we've done over the years is in a sense some kind of mentoring event or role. From Faculty Development workshops to publications to networking events, we've brought women together, trained them, provided valuable career development information, given them leadership training within the Caucus, and provided a venue for senior women to show junior women the way. The mentoring program has been valuable in that it has raised awareness of mentoring on campus. Today, there is definitely an increase in departmental mentoring programs and awards for mentoring."

The challenge for the next ten years is to continue to expand on the existing solid foundation. Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs and participating mentor Dr. Jeannette M. Shorey, II, offered her perspective on the mentoring experience. "Trust between the mentor and protégé is so important to having a productive and lasting relationship. It can't be forced. The mentor's role is not one of mother or sister but rather a mentor serves as a guide and resource—leading the protégé on a career pathway most appropriate for his/her success."

Faculty Vitae

Please note that some links or e-mail addresses have been disabled, may be omitted, or may not load correctly due to changes in content availability or an individual's institution affiliation/contact information.

To inquire about updates to information published in Faculty Vitae, please e-mail Valarie Clark at

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