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Women in Medicine Research Day

Stony Brook Medicine faculty and students presented research projects and shared their journeys in academic science, an area where women are often under-represented, at Stony Brook’s 12th annual Women in Medicine Research Day on March 7.

A leader in creating student and professional diversity, Stony Brook Medicine hosted the event to raise awareness of issues women face in medical, healthcare and research training and employment.

The current #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have increased Stony Brook’s visibility as a longtime advocate for women in science. Although there have been improvements, nationally there are still gender disparities in academic medicine leadership positions (such as division chiefs, medical school deans and tenured faculty.) The Women in Medicine Research Day event brings women together to network and form a community of researchers. 

Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, Senior Vice President for Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine, said Stony Brook Medicine makes certain “that we have the very best people in our leadership positions, and it so happens that many of them are women.”

The day-long program in the Health Science Galleria offered enhanced opportunities for networking, mentoring and collaboration, expanded and linked with Stony Brook Children’s Hospital Pediatric Grand Rounds. It was attended by Stony Brook physicians, researchers, medical residents, medical students, undergraduate students, nurses and physician assistants.

Eighty-eight attendees presented one-minute abstracts of their research studies. The line of presenters waiting to speak stretched around the Galleria, a visual testimony to the depth and breadth of science achievements by Stony Brook women. Topics ranged from predictions of patient outcomes to new pharmaceutical treatments to comparisons of surgical techniques. 

“Across the country, there are still tremendous gender biases in healthcare,” said Ann-Leslie Berger-Zaslav, PhD, Head of Cytogenetics and Clinical Professor of Pathology, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, and Coordinator and Committee Chair, Women in Medicine Research Day. “Only about 20 percent of women are heads of departments.

“This event showcases female faculty, attendings, fellows, graduate students and medical students,” Dr. Berger-Zaslav said. “It’s important for them to see that the future of the Stony Brook community holds tremendous potential.”

Panel discussions highlighted how Stony Brook Medicine’s female students and faculty have overcome gender bias and how they strike a balance between the demands of work and personal life. Latha Chandran, MD, MPH, Vice Dean, Academic and Faculty Affairs, who created the Women in Medicine program 12 years ago, recalled times when she was the only woman, and the only woman of color, in meetings.

Though times are changing, “it’s still an uphill battle,” Dr. Chandran said. One way to make change is “for the institution to showcase, validate and value the women faculty and trainees in medicine,” she said.

Finding a helpful mentor is essential for navigating science training, many of the speakers said. Laurie Shroyer, PhD, MSHA, Vice Chair for Research, Department of Surgery and Professor, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, said that before she came to Stony Brook, she was one of only four women full professors (out of 1,000) at another institution, and the only full professor who was also a mother. She urged scientists – those just starting out as well as those already established in their fields – to form a relationship with a mentor.

“A good mentor takes a fiduciary role in looking after you over time,” Dr. Shroyer said. “They take an interest in you personally and professionally, and guide and support you throughout your career.” 

Lee Anne Xippolitos, PhD, Dean, Stony Brook University School of Nursing, advised the audience to empower themselves by collaborating with colleagues.

“Look at each other, grow and learn from each other,” Dr. Xippolitos said. And when it comes to challenging situations, she urged those at the event to be role models, no matter what stage of their careers they are in.

“Change starts with you,” she said.