Top tips for women in academic medicine

A one-day conference has explored how to overcome the challenges faced by women in academic medicine

October 17, 2014

“Celebrating and promoting women in academic medicine” was organised by the British Medical Association and held at BMA House on 17 October.

After a “speed mentoring” opening session, Parveen Kumar, professor of medicine and education at Queen Mary University of London, described “what helped me find my way to success”.

Although she regretted that she had “lost my younger years, working even harder to prove I was as good as any man”, she also offered a number of pointers: “Don’t ask anyone to do what you wouldn’t do”; “Avoid confrontation unless absolutely necessary”; and “Choose your path… look 10 years ahead”.

Delegates raised questions from the floor about “the very gendered definitions of success”; the part-time women doctors who in effect pay to go to work, since childcare costs absorb their whole salary; and the case for making payment to nannies tax-deductible professional expenses.

Along with a presentation on the value of the Athena SWAN Charter in promoting the cause of women within academic medicine, smaller discussion groups offered opportunities for sharing experiences and suggestions. A group of mainly hospital trainees considered the particular issues relating to “academic women and hospital medicine”.

“Academic medicine will always have two masters,” a moderator explained, “neither of which will cut you any slack.” But since the key metrics were papers and grants, researchers enjoyed a certain “autonomy over diaries” denied to full-time clinicians, and this could be “liberating when it comes to juggling”. A consultant argued that it was essential to fight for blocks of “protected time” where they could focus on their science, which was often easier if they could secure independent sources of funding.

Meanwhile, those starting careers were advised to be “pleasantly inflexible” in response to unreasonable demands and to ensure that academic representatives on hospital trusts’ local negotiating committees took account of their concerns. They should also carve out for themselves a small, self-contained area of real clinical expertise – the only people who managed to oversee large research projects while also doing general medicine were men with stay-at-home wives, the event heard.

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