Women in Medicine Month: Taking Stock (Blog 1 of 3)

By Dr. Janine A. Clayton

dr claytonDuring September we celebrate Women in Medicine Month . Championed by the American Medical Association (AMA), this awareness initiative honors physicians who have offered their time, wisdom, and support to optimize patient outcomes and public health, and advance women with careers in medicine. When I think about this year’s theme, Born to Lead, I am reminded of the great strides made thus far among women with careers in medicine and the progress remaining on the road ahead.

On the one hand, the good news is that over the past few decades significant gains have been achieved in increasing the number of women graduating from medical schools and biomedical doctoral degree programs. In the US, since the 1990s nearly half of all medical school graduates and doctoral degree recipients in the biological sciences have been women.1,2

On the other hand, similar gains have not yet been fulfilled in the roles of women in leadership positions, particularly in academic medicine.1,2,3,4 A survey  (PDF) of more than 100 medical schools conducted by the American Association of Medical Colleges  found that while 38% of full-time medical school faculty in the US are women, only 21% are full professors and merely 16% hold dean positions.3

ORWH’s Efforts

Researchers spend many months, and sometimes years, in the lab trying to unravel a complex research question. I can readily admit that complex questions are rarely answered overnight or by a single person. Instead, solving complex problems often requires lab collaborations or even global efforts. I believe the same holds with respect to parity in leadership positions. This achievement will take time and the helping hands of many partners.

With this in mind, we can examine NIH and ORWH’s efforts to support this issue in the area of research. At ORWH the advancement of women researchers is not only important, it is one of the many reasons we were chartered more than 26 years ago.

To support leadership for women in science, ORWH helped develop the Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health program (BIRCWH, pronounced "BIRCH") – a mentored careerdevelopment program that connects junior faculty, known as BIRCWH Scholars, to senior faculty with shared research interest in women's health and sex-differences research. Since its inception in 2000  (PDF - 888.3KB), it has provided more than $150 million through 77 grants to 41 institutions, which have supported more than 630 junior faculty.5

This year’s BIRCWH Meeting will be held on October 25. It is free and open to the public and we encourage you to register and attend. The conference provides a forum for young investigators, their mentors, and other research scientists to present their research and engage in mentoring and networking activities.

ORWH also partners with many Institutes and Centers in efforts to support the advancement of women in biomedical careers. ORWH currently manages a trans-NIH initiative called the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers, which I co-chair along with NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD.

This initiative addresses career barriers for women in science including the development of innovative strategies to promote entry, recruitment, retention, and sustained advancement of women in biomedical and research careers.

One of the initiative’s fruits is the Women of Color Research Network which aims to facilitate the research careers of women of color. This network provides information about the NIH grants process, advice on career development, and a forum for networking and sharing information.

While further efforts remain ahead, I believe it is important to take some time this month to celebrate the gains achieved. You can watch a video to learn more about the remarkable accomplishments of pioneering women in medicine , see the growth of women in medicine  over time, or learn more about this year’s AMA Inspirational Physician Honorees.


1. Plank-Bazinet, J. et al. (2017). Women's Careers in Biomedical Sciences: Implications for the Economy, Scientific Discovery, and Women's Health. Journal of Women’s Health 26 (5): 525-529.

2. Grisso, J. et al. (2017). A Randomized Controlled Trial to Improve the Success of Women Assistant Professors. Journal of Women’s Health 26 (5): 571-579.

3. American Association of Women in Academic Science (2014). The State of Women in Academic Medicine: The Pipeline and Pathways to Leadership.

4. Wagner, J. and Corley, D. (2017). The Women’s Leadership Gap. Center for American Progress.www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2017/05/21/432758/womens-leadership-gap/ . Accessed September 1, 2017.

5. Nagel, J. et al. (2013). Building the Women’s Health Research Workforce: Fostering Interdisciplinary Research Approaches in Women’s Health. Global Advances in Health and Medicine 2 (5): 24-29.