Growing Numbers, Changing Times?
Throughout the late 1970s and to the present day, the number of women in the Medical School has continued to increase at the faculty, researcher, and student levels. The medical student population saw the most change. While 8% of the class was female in 1974, four years later women constituted 26% of the medical school class, and this rose into the 30 percentile range in the 1980s. The Medical School reported in 1994 that for the first time, 58% of the people admitted were female. In recent years, the gender ratio in medical school classes has been nearly 50/50, and students are increasingly diverse. It was only in 2017 that the Association of American Medical Colleges reported more women than men enrolled in medical schools nationally.
Despite larger numbers of women faculty, researchers, and medical students, institutional changes within Yale's School of Medicine moved slowly. Fed up with larger inequities at the medical school, senior women faculty from within SWIM and outside of the group created a "Bill of Rights" in 1999. Women faculty identified issues relating to salary equity, equal access to resources, and equal representation by women on important committees.
Between 2006-2014, the School of Medicine was embroiled in several highly publicized sexual harassment and misconduct cases, as women came forward to report inappropriate behavior by male physicians in powerful positions in pharmacology, cardiology, and nephrology. In 2014, Dean Robert Alpern appointed an Ad Hoc Task Force on Gender Equity to examine issues including: "impediments to academic advancement, opportunities for leadership, compensation, and aspects of the work environment, including climate and professional conduct." In the 2015 report, the task force found that “many faculty have expressed long-standing concerns that the environment at YSM is inhospitable toward women and that inequities are perpetuated by a leadership that has not been held accountable for fostering diversity and inclusion.”
The numbers compiled by the report support this conclusion. Between 2010 and 2014, 20 men were hired as full professors compared with five women, while the number hired at the level of tenured associate professor was seven men compared with one woman. 84% of 116 endowed professorships, considered prestigious and often with additional funding, are held by men.
In 1984, Carolyn Walch Slayman, Ph.D. broke through a major barrier when she was named chair of the Department of Human Genetics (now Genetics), becoming the first woman to head a department at Yale School of Medicine. In 1995, Slayman became the school’s first deputy dean for academic and scientific affairs, and the first woman to hold a deputy deanship in the Medical School. Slayman's career at the Medical School spanned nearly 50 years before her death in 2016. In 2018, an endowed professorship was created to honor Slayman's legacy as mentor and trailblazer.
Minority women continue to be particularly under-represented in the higher ranks of the Medical School faculty despite the growing diversity of the medical student population. Michele Johnson, MD, joined Yale in 1999 as Director of Interventional Neuroradiology at the associate professor level. In 2014, Johnson became the school's first female and African American full professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging and of Neurosurgery.
In 2018, Dr. Nita Ahuja, an Indian-American woman, became the first female chair of the Department of Surgery, which had its beginnings in 1813. Ahuja is one of only 19 women in the United States that chairs surgery departments, a field that is still strongly dominated by men.
On June 1st, 2018, a celebration of 100 years of women at Yale School of Medicine took place in a day-long symposium attracting over 600 attendees. As a prelude to the symposium, the medical school community was invited to nominate distinguished women, share stories, and reflect on contributions women made to the School of Medicine and the world.
We could not cover in this exhibition all of the women faculty and alumnae who have contributed to the legacy of the Yale School of Medicine. To learn more about some of the many illustrious and distinguished women of the Yale School of Medicine, please see this collection of profiles.