The Women On the Walls

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Many academic medical centers are re-evaluating the tradition of hanging portraits of former leaders, mostly male, in lecture halls and other prominent areas in order to promote a culture of inclusion and diversity. A recent article in Becker's Hospital Review announced that "Brigham and Women's takes down 31 portraits of white male leaders in diversity effort.". Similarly at the University of Chicago, two undergraduate students led the charge to complete and display a bust of the first African-American woman to earn her PhD from the University of Chicago.(2) They wanted to recognize historical underrepresented minority role models as opposed to taking down controversial statues, which has been done at other universities.

Before, By Dr. Oyler
After, by Dr. Oyler

This past summer, leaders of the Department of Medicine Women's Committee at the University of Chicago began to focus on getting more visibility for successful women scientists, clinicians and educators within the Department and Biological Sciences Division. They started small, meeting with Everett Vokes, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine, and requesting to have the Department's main corridor redesigned to reflect the current composition of the faculty. Dr. Vokes agreed and immediately assigned the project to a lead staff member. After a three-month selection and design process, the Department recently installed a new display highlighting the Department's leadership, award winners, newly named professors and prominent women (see pictures above), while respecting the former chairmen with a display within the same main corridor. The new display now reflects the diverse faculty make-up in the Department. About half of the Executive Committee and one-third of the Section Chiefs (picture not included) are women. Over one-half of the chief residents in the Department's internal medicine, emergency medicine, dermatology and medicine pediatrics residency programs are female (picture not included).

The Department of Medicine Women's Committee is now working with the Dean and other leaders in the Biological Sciences Division to revamp the portrait displays in the widely used main lecture hall in the medical center. A call for nominations for historic men, women, and minority faculty went out to all department chairs. A division-wide committee is reviewing the proposals and will narrow the possibilities later this year. Following that, the committee will work with an arts program coordinator on how to best display the historic photographs.

Hopefully, current and future generations of physicians can look at the walls and see it as a place that they aspire to be, and recognize the women and men from the past who contributed to the greatness of our institution.

Dr. Julie Oyler is an Associate Professor of Medicine and Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program at the University of Chicago. She splits her time as a clinician and an educator who teaches quality improvement and patient safety to students, residents and faculty. She became the Chair for the University of Chicago Department of Medicine Women’s Committee in October 2017.

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