For almost 40 years, the Office of Women in Medicine and Science (OWIMS) has been dedicated to the advancement of women faculty, residents, students and trainees in the Division of Biology and Medicine at Brown University and the School of Public Health at Brown University. OWIMS serves to network women in medicine and science at all levels. The Office offers educational programs to meet the needs of its many stakeholders.
In late 1980’s, the Association of Women Medical Faculty, was formed as an affiliate of the University Faculty Committee on the Status of Women at Brown. The Association encompassed all women medical faculty with full time academic appointments or clinical appointments. It promoted collaboration, networking, recruitment and advancement of junior women faculty.
In 1991, coordinators of the Association [Drs. Lynn Epstein, Agnes Kane, Lois Monteiro, and Ms. Debra Abeshaus] proposed an Office of Women in Medicine to the Dean of Medicine, Dr. David Greer. The proposal was approved and the Office of Women in Medicine (OWM) was established with Dr. Lynn Epstein appointed as a part time Associate Dean of Medicine. The Office was given a modest budget and in 1993, Ms. Debra Abeshaus was appointed Director.
For the next decade or so, the office continued to offer programs for students and faculty, including the Women in Medicine Mentor Program, the Women in Medicine Residency Fair, and dinner discussion programs led by women senior faculty, offering tips, pointers and encouragement in moving forward in the promotion process as well as other programming aimed at bringing women physician faculty together.
In 2002-03, a transition year between deans of the Division of Biology and Medicine, an Office of Women in Medicine ad hoc committee focus group was formed to consider next steps. Based on recommendations to Dr. Richard Besdine, Interim Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences, a decision was made to maintain the Office of Women in Medicine, continue to hold programs for various constituencies, and to form a Women’s Advisory Committee. Also, during that time a Search was launched for an Associate Dean for Women in Medicine.
Dr. Michele Cyr was appointed Associate Dean of Women in Medicine in September, 2003 and during that academic year, she formed the first Office of Women in Medicine Advisory Board. This newly formed advisory group consisted of Drs. Michele Cyr, Marlene Cutitar, Alison Heru, Lynne Johnson, Jennifer Kacmar, Agnes Kane, Carol Landau, Henrietta Leonard, Sharon Marable, Bismruta Misra, Lois Monteiro, Judith Owens, Sharon Rounds, Leah Schafer, Linda Snelling, Nancy Thompson, Mses. Debra Abeshaus, and medical students, Eden Kahle and Ivone Kim.
In February, 2004, the newly formed advisory board drafted and approved the Mission Statement for the Office of Women in Medicine (OWM) and donor funds were identified for a professional development series programs with continuing medical education credits being offered by the Office of Continuing Medical Education.
Mentoring and networking programs continued to be offered and the OWM Advisory Board members worked on developing and in some cases, leading these new professional development series of programs. Programs were offered on negotiation, developing leadership skills, dealing with difficult people, and managing sleep loss and fatigue in a medical practice to name a few.
In May of 2005, the Office offered its first Professional Development Conference, “Skills for Navigating the Workplace”. This first-ever professional development conference would become an annual event designed to bring together women faculty in medicine for an educational meeting, discussions, and networking. Through the years, the conference has grown to include women from clinical and research psychology, basic science biology departments, and public health. Offering attendees a program where they can acquire specific skills and strategies for their academic advancement is the main priority of the conference. Promoting leadership skills, diversity, mentoring, collaboration, and addressing the goal of having a successful and satisfying work-life experience are also essential aspects. Though participation of both women and men is encouraged, the majority of the audience remains primarily women. In 2020, the conference celebrated its 16th year of continuous programming.
MomDocFamily, a grassroots organization, was also formed during this period with help from the Office of Women in Medicine. MomDocFamily is a multidisciplinary group of women doctors representing all stages of careers and medical training who are committed to providing mentorship and support for women physicians facing the challenges and rewards of combining a medical career with motherhood.
Throughout these early years, OWM also developed collaborations with the Brown University/Women and Infants Hospital National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health (CoE) and the Brown University ADVANCE Program.
In January, 2010, the Office of Women in Medicine Advisory Board recommended to the Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences, Dr. Edward Wing, that the office be renamed the Office of Women in Medicine and Science (OWIMS) which would reflect the many constituencies served. Dean Wing approved the board’s recommendation and the advisory board’s name was also changed to the Office of Women in Medicine and Science Advisory Board.
Following the name change, a Task Force, comprised of OWIMS board members, was formed to identify key issues the Advisory Board would need to address to promote women’s advancement, recruitment, and retention. Two areas of focus were identified -- annual faculty reviews and faculty searches and recruitment. These areas of focus lead to the BioMed Faculty Survey project. In 2013, the Survey was administered under the sponsorship of the Office of the Dean of Medicine and Biological Sciences, the Office of BioMed Faculty Administration, the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Women in Medicine and Science. OWIMS Advisory board members, Drs. Melissa Clark and Katherine “Katie” Sharkey, played key roles in the administration and analysis of the survey.
In the fall of 2016, Dr. Katherine Sharkey was appointed the first Assistant Dean for Women in Medicine and Science following Debra Abeshaus' retirement after almost 25 years of service to the Office and its mission.
OWIMS has continued to expand its outreach and programming. In 2017, OWIMS sponsored its first book club discussion of I Know How She Does It – How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam. Since that first discussion, at least two book clubs are held per semester including one held in March to celebrate International Women’s Day.
In 2018, several first-year women medical students banded together to re-activate a student chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA). There had not been an active student chapter at Alpert Medical School (AMS) for several years. The group had a vision for the role they wanted to play within AMS and the wider Rhode Island health professions community. Their mission was to work to connect the medical student body with the larger AMWA organization, the Rhode Island Medical Women’s Association (RIMWA) and OWIMS.
The first AMS-AMWA Student Chapter student executive board consisted of Julia Festa (MD’21) (President), Joanna Georgakas (MD’21) (Vice-President), Tina Hinman (MD’25) and Alex Rosenthal (MD’21) (Operations and Outreach) and Sahar Shahamatdar (MD’23) (Treasurer). Serving as volunteer faculty advisors were OWIMS Assistant Dean, Dr. Katie Sharkey, former RIMWA President, Dr. Reena Bhatt, and former Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, Dr. Jordan White.
OWIMS, working together with RIMWA and the AMWA Student chapter, as well as the 500 Women Scientists group, have added a variety of “movie nights and film screenings” with the goal of bringing women in medicine and science at all levels together.
Since its inception, OWIMS has and will always continue its mission to advance the academic progress and professional development of women faculty, house officers, students and trainees through education, advocacy, mentoring, and networking.