UMMS showcases women’s leadership in academic medicine at international conference

Luanne Thorndyke and Shlomit Schaal speak at Conference of Women Healthcare Professionals in Argentina

UMass Medical School Communications

October 18, 2017
  Attendees of the Conference of Women Healthcare Professionals included, front row, left, Luanne Thorndyke, and back row, second from left, Shlomit Schaal.

Attendees of the Conference of Women Healthcare Professionals included, front row, left, Luanne Thorndyke, and back row, second from left, Shlomit Schaal.

Luanne Thorndyke, MD, vice provost for faculty affairs and professor of medicine, and Shlomit Schaal, MD, PhD, chair and professor of ophthalmology & visual sciences, served as keynote speakers at the Conference of Women Healthcare Professionals in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This inaugural women’s leadership conference, sponsored by the Society of Women Physicians of the Argentina Medical Association (AMA), brought together more than 150 professionals to hear speakers describe barriers that prevent women physicians from achieving leadership positions and strategies to break down and overcome these barriers. About 70 percent of medical school students in Argentina are women, but, like their colleagues in the United States, women have yet to achieve parity in representation among the medical/surgical specialties and senior leadership. At UMass Medical School, women have made gains in leadership representation: 23 percent of chair positions and 61 percent of UMMS administrative leadership positions are held by women, and a variety of mechanisms are in place to increase these numbers, including leadership development of aspiring women leaders.

“This conference provided an important platform for a global discussion about advancement of women physicians to leadership positions, and facilitated communication and professional development among women physicians internationally,” Dr. Thorndyke said. “We were honored to represent UMass and U.S. women physicians at this significant event.”

The conference was organized by Agustina Palacio, MD, an ophthalmologist practicing in Buenos Aires and a former research trainee of Dr. Schaal. In her talk, Dr. Palacio shared pearls of wisdom learned from teachers and mentors she encountered during training. Schaal was featured as a valued mentor who helped Palacio publish 10 original manuscripts before returning to Argentina to enter clinical practice.

Schaal provided tips and insight about choosing a career path, professional development and advancement by sharing examples from her own career as a vitreo-retinal physician investigator.

“It is gratifying to see how women can benefit from mentoring to achieve their dreams,” Schaal said. “Dr. Palacio was one of most gifted fellows I have had the pleasure of working with.”

Thorndyke spoke about issues women leaders face in the executive suite and how they are similar and different from those that men face. Drawing on her career experience, Thorndyke shared strategies to avoid some of the common pitfalls that can get in the way of women’s success.

Liliana Licciardi, MD, president of the Society of Women Physicians of the AMA, described the evolution of women in medicine and the ethical and social importance of women in medicine, citing factors needed to achieve autonomy and self-determination in the profession. At the closing of the conference, the audience heard from Gabriela Michetti, the vice president of Argentina. She spoke about leadership of women, women physicians and women’s health from the perspective of a patient, a woman and a political leader.

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