Online Exhibits@Yale

New Movements for Yale Women in Medicine

In the 1960s and 1970s, medicine faced challenges from inside and outside the field.  Civil rights, a second wave of feminism, and a growing patient rights movement began altering the face and the way medicine was practiced. With the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal funding were prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex, and compelled to outline steps to prevent sexual harassment. Schools in traditionally male-dominated fields like medicine, where women comprised only 12% of all physicians in training in 1973, were forced to quickly accomodate larger numbers of women in classes and faculty positions. It was in this climate that Yale women in the medical school formed groups addressing the larger issues facing women in medicine.

Women in Medicine: Views from a Medical School

First page from Women in Medicine: Views from a Medical School by Bodel and Short, 1972.

Phyllis Bodel, MD (1934-1978)

Phyllis Bodel, first director for the Office for Women in Medicine

“I plan to continue in a full-time academic position, hopefully until I drop dead.”- Yale medical woman survey respondent, 1971

In 1972, Phyllis Bodel, a senior research associate in the Department of Internal Medicine, and Elizabeth Short, a post-doctoral fellow, wrote a short article entitled “Women in Medicine: Views from a Medical School.” This article was based on a survey of 135 women who entered Yale medical school between 1944 and 1965.  In it, Bodel and Short challenged widely held views of women medical practitioners:  "Many medical school administrations and faculty members still maintain privately that 'everyone knows' women have a high drop-out rate from medical school, get married and do not take adequate post-doctoral training, then have children and never practice, or practice just a little in second-rate jobs."

Bodel and Short discovered that, in fact, most women had jobs that emphasized teaching, research and administrative responsibilities; only 12 women reported that they were in full-time practice (40-100 hours per week). Thirty-six women held teaching appointments, but only 13 were assistant or associate professors, and none were full professors.  Facing barriers, only 22 women were board certified, primarily specializing in internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, and pathology, fields traditionally associated with women medical practitioners.  Many of the respondents had to work part-time during parts of their career, often when raising families.

Office for Women in Medicine Support Groups

Flyer promoting support groups from the Office for Women in Medicine

Office for Women in Medicine

A faculty subcommittee chaired by Bodel of the advisory Medical School Council at Yale formed to study and discuss issues facing women.  At the committee's recommendation, Dean Robert Berliner approved and funded the creation of the Office for Women in Medicine (OWM) in June 1975, with Bodel as its first director.  The OWM assisted in a large list of issues facing women in the medical school, including lack of visible role models, gender based pay disparities, "micro-inequities" women faced daily, limited advancement opportunities, and discrimination in hiring and promotion, among other problems. The OWM had a Liaison Officer and staff to facilitate resolutions to problems related to women in medicine, and provided programming and a woman-friendly space. OWM held weekly luncheon meetings for medical students, created a small library with materials on women in medicine, sponsored panels on rape and held self-defense classes in response to an assault on a female medical student, and provided job referrals.

 

Committee on the Status of Women in the School of Medicine

While the Office of Women in Medicine was a subcommittee on the Medical School Council, a separate group called the Committee on the Status of Women in the School of Medicine (SWIM), also formed in 1975, reported directly to the Dean. SWIM was comprised of a liaison officer, faculty members, students, minority groups, researchers, and clinicians. The OWM and SWIM worked closely together on women's issues in the medical school.  SWIM's early activism focused on pregnancy disability and parental leave of absence, although the group successfully lobbied for male and female on-call rooms for medical students, and provided advocates for women and minorities in the selection of house officers.

New Movements for Yale Women in Medicine