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Spotlight: Award Winning Women in Medicine Programs - University of Pennsylvania FOCUS and Georgetown University GWIM


This Spotlight describes the founding and growth of two award-winning medical school-based programs for women faculty professional development. The University of Pennsylvania’s women in medicine program, FOCUS on Health and Leadership for Women External Link is comprehensive with a full time centralized staff, and one of the strongest budget lines of any Women in Medicine (WIM) program in the U.S. Georgetown University’s Women in Medicine program (GWIM) has maintained the grassroots, decentralized organization of its founding and operates on limited financial support and volunteer leaders to develop programming. Both schools have received the AAMC Women in Medicine Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to develop leaders in academic medicine.

A National View of Women in Medicine Programs

The 2002 AAMC Increasing Women’s Leadership Report outlines the importance of support for women in medicine programs in cultivating women leaders.

The 2004-2005 AAMC Women in U.S. Academic Medicine Statistics and Medical School Benchmarking describes the structure, funding, and activities of 109 medical schools Women Liaison Officers who responded to the survey in June 2005. Ninety-nine schools report ongoing support of professional development of women faculty. For those schools reporting funding, levels of support range from $250,000 to $200 (average of $27,197 and median of $11,500). Fifty-eight report a centralized organizational structure within their institutions. Thirty schools report some level of on-going grassroots or volunteer activities.

Resources for WIM Programs at US Medical Schools

  • Administrative staff
  • Designated office space
  • Website development and maintenance
  • Publications and subscriptions
  • Newsletter publications
  • List serves
  • Special exhibits

The wide range of Women in Medicine activities carried out at U.S. Medical Schools

  • Professional development workshops
  • Gender equity consultations
  • Informal discussion groups - teas and brown-bag luncheons
  • Journal clubs for professional development
  • Sponsorship of women faculty to AAMC & ELAM career development programs
  • Regional WIM meetings and conferences
  • Visiting professorships honoring women of distinction in science and medicine
  • Programs for medical and graduate students and residents

Founded with grassroots efforts and expanded to support professional advancement

Both the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University programs were established by a handful of women faculty through grassroots efforts in 1994. Each has experienced various levels of support and funding and has used numerous strategies to sustain their programs.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

FOCUS was founded by a senior faculty member, Dr. Jeanne Grisso, within the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Its purpose in 1994 was to create a multidisciplinary network to encourage interest in women’s health research. Three years later, faculty of the National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, working with the Dean of the medical school, expanded the role of FOCUS to include a leadership and mentoring program. With financial support from the Dean and national agendas before them, FOCUS worked quickly to identify their audience and communicate the value of the proposed programs to department chairs and other leaders.

Today, FOCUS offers a wide variety of programs and manages an annual operating budget of over $250,000. A handful of committed women leaders are responsible for developing and carrying out the goals and objectives of the FOCUS program.

The FOCUS office leadership External Link includes three directors and administrative support: Executive Director, Stephanie Abbuhl, M.D.; Director of Research, Anne Cappola, M.D.; Director of Professional Development, Lucy Tuton, Ph.D.; Director of Operations, Patricia Scott; and Administrative Coordinator, Susan Primavera. Dr Abbuhl believes that hiring the right personnel to staff the office is key to its success. She relies heavily upon Ms. Scott for managing the day-to-day operations. “Pat is an individual that understands the big picture of the institution yet can negotiate all the details to run the program.” The group works well as a team that provides mutual and institutional support.

Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown’s Women in Medicine program (GWIM) was founded in response to salary inequities reported by women in the Department of Internal Medicine. Four women faculty leaders (Drs. Terry Taylor, Bonnie Green, Mairlee Cole, and Miriam Toporowicz) recognized the importance of strengthening women's support networks and building community within the medical center. Their grassroots efforts continue to reach out to the 400 women faculty at Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC). With limited support and funding, but rich in energy, ideas, and passion, the GWIM continues to make small, significant steps toward developing programs for women at Georgetown. The AAMC recognized the success of these efforts with the 2003 AAMC Women in Medicine Leadership Award.

The award received wide attention from Georgetown’s leadership. Past president, Dr. Toporowicz reports proudly, “the national award helped legitimize our efforts to GUMC leadership. The award gave us an increased visibility across the university and renewed our efforts and energy for advancing women.” With new momentum, GWIM leveraged the national recognition when negotiating with leadership for increased financial and administrative support.

Today, twenty focused, active volunteer women faculty sustain and drive the activities of the organization. All women faculty are invited to activities that support GWIM’s mission to promote the professional advancement of medical women faculty at GUMC and establish policies and a working environment that promote equality and diversity in hiring, promotion, and compensation. The group organizes skill-building workshops, networking activities, and recently has established two awards, the Estelle Ramey Mentorship Award, which is given to faculty who demonstrate dedication to advancing women in academic medicine, and the John Eisenberg Award to support a faculty member’s attendance at the AAMC Early Career or Mid-Career Women Faculty Professional Development program.

Future Directions


FOCUS continues to support its original missions to advance and lead women in academic medicine and to promote women’s health research. Strategically, FOCUS has incorporated men into several components of initiatives, with the understanding that the environment needs to improve for all faculty if quality of life is to be improved for women faculty. This will require developing programs for an increasingly diverse group from different tracks, ranks, and departments.

Dr. Abbuhl’s vision of the next decade is to expand the work they have begun. “We’d like to expand our work in promoting the acceptance of flexible work options and increase availability of part-time; advocate for recruitment of women chairs and other leadership opportunities; host a national conference addressing issues of importance to women in medicine, and publish our lessons learned and benchmark data in a journal article.”


A sure sign of commitment from leadership is a budget increase in the midst of institutional fiscal cuts. Recently, GWIM received an increase bringing their program budget to $22,000. The funds are primarily used to deliver professional development programs to faculty and to cover the expenses for women faculty accepted to the AAMC Early Career Women Faculty Professional Development Seminar. GWIM is a model of what can be done with limited resources and broad faculty commitment. GWIM continues 17 years after its founding, nurtured by key ingredients of a respected leader’s commitment, and a strong women faculty organization with multiple sources of energy.

Current president of GWIM, Leslie Walker, M.D., is preparing for the next phase of GWIM activities. “Our efforts will focus on increasing a sustained active membership and board specifically increasing the number of women department chairs by working with leadership.” Dr. Walker offered words of encouragement to women leaders starting women in medicine programs: “never be discouraged, continue to work toward equity, inclusion and career development for all women faculty; it benefits everyone.”

Lessons in Building a Strong Professional Development Program for Women

Stephanie Abbuhl, MD, Executive Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s FOCUS program offers lessons learned from her own experience.

1. Be clear with leadership as to why the institution needs to invest in professional development for all faculty but especially for women faculty. Women now make up half the medical school classes and thus, a significant portion of the pipeline of talented faculty and potential leaders.

2. Research and present data on women faculty and leaders in your institution. A simple power point presentation showing the number of women by rank and leadership position (department chairs, division chiefs, associate deans, vice deans) can make a strong impression with institutional leaders. Your message should be clear, simple, and inclusive.

3. Develop a proposal for Women in Medicine programs that have broad interest and appeal. Align your program goals with those of your institution. Address institutional change for all faculty. Use other successful Women in Medicine programs as models and include issues of importance to everyone, such as supervising staff, planning for promotion and tenure.

4. Make a reasonable request for start-up funding. Your programming success will help you negotiate additional funding.

5. Maintain ongoing communication with your dean and other institutional leaders. Seek opportunities to have your dean get the message about the program and why the program continues to be supported.

Helpful resources

AAMC Women in U.S. Academic Medicine Statistics and Medical School Benchmarking report, Note: power point slides are available for use in local presentations.

Faculty Vitae

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