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Lessons Learned: Women in Medical Management

Thursday, June 06, 2013


Although more and more women are going into medicine, the number of women in leadership roles in the field has not been keeping pace. University of Maryland School of Medicine alumnus Deborah Shlian, MD, Class of 1972, explores this issue in her latest book, Lessons Learned: Women in Medical Management, in which she profiles 24 women who have successfully made it to the top ranks of medicine, including Donna Parker, MD, Associate Dean for Student Affairs and an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine.

This book is a sequel of sorts to Shlian’s 1995 book Women In Medicine & Management: A Mentoring Guide. Dr. Shlian had a difficult time back then finding women in senior positions across all areas of health care, a situation she hoped would be different these days, with more and more women choosing to go into medicine. “When I looked at the statistics, though, I found that women were still underrepresented in positions of power, especially at the most senior level,” she says. “Only about 16% of all senior positions – in all areas of medicine, from academia to managed care to hospitals – are held by women physicians.”

Dr. Shlian hopes that this book will help younger women physicians find a path to greater success. “I decided to call this book Lessons Learned, because that’s what I wanted, for these successful women to really tell their stories,” Dr. Shlian says. “I asked them to share their career paths and really be honest about how they made the transition from clinical medicine to leadership. I also asked them to talk specifically about the obstacles and challenges they faced, especially in balancing work, family and their personal lives.”

Dr. Parker’s involvement in the project began last year at Alumni Weekend, when Dr. Shlian, returned to Baltimore for her class reunion. She had been looking for someone in academia for the book and was introduced to Dr. Parker, who is also an alumnus of the School of Medicine. Dr. Parker agreed to participate because “if my experiences can help guide women interested in pursuing a career in medical education administration, I am happy to share,” she says. “I clearly do not have a roadmap, but you never know what piece of your life might resonate with someone else and make their path easier.”

To Dr. Parker, the biggest challenge for women in academic medicine (and other corporate environments) is “finding an effective voice while maintaining your female perspective on the world.  Often we feel that we have to behave or react or communicate like men to be heard,” she says. “We have much to offer, and it is frequently from a different vantage point and communicated in a different way.”

A common theme in Lessons Learned is the importance of women in power who have offered guidance to the women coming behind them. “I think it’s really terrific that there are women who are reaching out,” Dr. Shlian says. “However, I think that we, women physicians as a whole, need to be better mentors.”

Women can’t learn to be mentors, though, if they have no one with whom to share these lessons. The top piece of advice Dr. Parker gives her students? “Find great mentors, and seek their advice and guidance often,” she declares.

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University of Maryland School of Medicine
Caelie Haines
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(410) 706-7508

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 Dr. Deborah Shlian

 Dr. Donna Parker

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