“Through her unparalleled contributions and her visionary leadership, she’s paving the way for a new generation of women to choose their career path without the hindrance of historical norms.” - Kelsey Martin, MD, PhD
Those words, spoken by Dean Kelsey C. Martin of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, could apply to many women in medicine today. The fact that they refer to a female department chair within the school gives them even more power.
The fact that four women now occupy such a position amplifies their power even further.
Since becoming dean in July 2016, Martin has filled five chair positions after nationwide searches for the most accomplished, most visionary leaders in their respective fields.
Three of those have been women from within UCLA:
They join Dr. Sherin Devaskar, Department of Pediatrics, at the leadership table of the David Geffen School of Medicine.
Women's History Month provides the opportunity both to celebrate this defiance of "historical norms" and to prize the diversity of perspective and opinion that results. "Diverse representation within the chair positions is vital," said Lynn Gordon, senior associate dean for diversity affairs and no stranger to the impact of women in leadership. "It affects the type of culture and climate within the departments, the hiring practices of the departments, the type of research questions that are explored, and the type of discussions happening within the medical school itself."
She put it another way: "Having diversity is critically important in terms of fulfilling all of the missions of the medical school in the best way possible."
The most basic mission is, of course, education. That's how women in leadership positions arguably change the future most directly. They're not only brilliant educators, researchers and physicians. They're also role models.
"Regardless of gender or ethnicity or background, young people who see leaders that reflect their own backgrounds and heritage learn that their own possibilities are endless, that equity is important, that everyone has opportunity," Gordon said. "Seeing different types of faces at the leadership table, hearing different perspectives, witnessing the impact on problem-solving - that's inspiring to everyone."
Inspiration is the essence of Women's History Month.
After all, just as Martin's words could have been spoken about any of the chairs, they could also have been spoken about herself - the first female dean of the medical school - or about Johnese Spisso, the first woman to hold the positions of president of UCLA Health, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, and associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences.
Both assumed their current roles within months of each other.
Both reflect a new dynamic of diversity in leadership - and the change that such leadership can bring for new generations.
By Tami Dennis