Wednesday 13th January saw the successful inaugural meeting of the Women in Academic Medicine meeting.
Following a review of the demographic of clinical academic posts, it became clear that there are barriers to women pursuing and being appointed to these roles, leading to a disparity. To address this, the Women in Academic Medicine (WiAM) group was drawn from interested colleagues and supported by the NIHR Imperial BRC, to address the challenges faced by women in the field.
WiAM, the acronym of which coincides with the Arabic word meaning tranquillity, harmony, accord and rapport, chose to focus the first meeting on ‘How I did it/what I have learned’. A group of esteemed academic clinicians were invited to present on different aspects of their journey to inspire others. The meeting was attended by over 90 people and concluded with a question-and-answer session to address any questions from the audience.
Chaired by Professor Dame Lesley Regan, the meeting started with a whistle-stop tour of Professor Regan’s career and her ‘survival kit’ for a clinical academic career. Focussing on support mechanisms and special mentors being a fundamental building block to progress, alongside support from family and friends and safety valves to vent frustrations and bounce off ideas. She also spoke of sustained optimism and celebrating success for yourself and others to maintain positivity and momentum. She ended by talking about her later interest in influencing policy makers to improve women’s health health care.
“Opportunities rarely make appointments – grab them before they pass you by”
– Professor Dame Lesley Regan
The talk by Professor Jane Davies followed, speaking of self-confidence and imposter syndrome. She highlighted the importance of letting go of perfectionism and retaining pragmatism when it comes to rejection or judgement from others. Furthermore, Professor Davies echoed the sentiment that collaboration and seeking mentoring is key, as well as establishing a network of peers and allies. She asserted that you will only receive awards you put yourself up for, so it is important to speak of your successes. Finally, while it is difficult to strike a work/life balance, you are allowed to say no!
Mum guilt and balancing a family life was then discussed by Dr Vitoria Salem. Unfortunately, she asserted, there is no one-size-fits-all advice or plan, with different cultural contexts and family situations to consider. She did however describe some basic principles; first and foremost do a job you’re passionate about and your children will respect you as they get older. Furthermore, the importance of delegation, rock solid childcare plans and backups where required, keeping separation between work and home to allow for quality time in both places, listening to a broad range of advice, relying on your partner or support network and being compassionate to others were highlighted.
The penultimate talk was from Professor Liz Lightstone who covered the more academic aspects. Ambition was encouraged, alongside taking credit where it’s due and promoting yourself which is a skill that often takes time and practice for women. Time is also often not readily available for a clinical academic, so Prof. Lightstone described the need for strategic planning and broadening your network. In today’s research world, publications are currency so she encouraged publishing as soon as possible, alongside spending time to work out in what way you stand out and differ from those around you to capitalise. Finally, the key points of resilience and being allowed to say no were reiterated.
In the final talk of the evening, Miss Emma Carrington spoke of her journey as a surgeon and academic. Some wider areas were highlighted such as staying up-to-date with latest research, analysing your skill set, flexibility, embracing technology, networking and reflection. This was accompanied by some specific advice to surgeons such as linking with training bodies, understanding what areas you need to develop and step away from the requirement for skin-to-skin operating as well as keeping clear records of specific training.
This meeting will be the first of many, and the organising group are busy planning subsequent events. If you have any ideas for future events, please do get in touch by email to: email@example.com