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Challenges Continue For Women In Science And Medicine

I didn’t turn on the computer yesterday (yes, it was glorious), so I missed Mother’s Day coverage in our local newspaper. When we returned home, I was happy to see that on the front page of the print copy the dean of Duke School of Medicine, Nancy Andrews, M.D., Ph.D., was featured with her daughter in the lab on their “fun Saturdays” together.

Also cited and pictured in the article was Duke vice dean for research and professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, Sally Kornbluth, Ph.D., and her daughter.

Written by News & Observer science editor Sarah Avery, the article describes how women are increasing in ranks in biomedical degrees earned while still lagging at the associate professor level and up. This trend was cited specifically for faculty and administrators in basic science departments of medical schools, but is widespread in academic science and engineering.

In 2007, I wrote about Andrews becoming the first female dean of a top-10 U.S. medical school and expressed my bewilderment that it took that long. In fact, local attitudes were such that Andrews recalled this recollection in a NEJM article about taking the dean’s position:

…it continues to be true that we do not expect women to hold certain positions in society or medicine. Recently, I witnessed firsthand the persistence of such expectations, when my husband, our children, and I went to visit a school in North Carolina where Duke staff members had made an appointment for the family of the new dean of the medical school. As we entered the school, its principal vigorously shook my husband’s hand and welcomed him, saying, “You must be the man of the moment.” Unfortunately, it is quite understandable that it wouldn’t have crossed his mind that I might be the “woman of the moment” instead…

It’s always a good thing to see science featured on the front page of a region’s major newspaper, especially the Sunday edition. And I recognize that it was a nice human interest piece for Mother’s Day and you don’t want to be a cynic on such a day. So, it’s no surprise that the article didn’t address the specific challenges that women face in achieving the academic heights of Drs. Andrews and Kornbluth.

And I see only one lab coat and no eye protection in the lead photograph.

*This blog post was originally published at Terra Sigillata*


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