Advancing and advocating for women in medicine

Advancing and advocating for women in medicine

By Jennifer Palma Sanchez

Advancing and advocating for women in medicine

By Jennifer Palma Sanchez
The University of Miami’s Women in Academic Medicine Employee Resource Group has spent more than a decade working to ensure that women in health care careers have a seat at the table.

When Rose van Zuilen began her career in medicine, she was disappointed and often discouraged by the lack of advanced scholarship and publication opportunities for women. Over time, gaps in mentorship and professional development became more apparent, so she decided to work toward a solution. Today, van Zuilen, associate professor of professional practice and director of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine for the Miller School of Medicine, serves as president of the University of Miami’s Women in Academic Medicine Employee Resource Group (WIAM ERG). With the support of leaders at the University of Miami Health System and Miller School of Medicine, she has witnessed incredible changes and successes among her peers.

Established in 2008 by Dr. Hilit Mechaber, associate dean for student services and associate professor of medicine at the Miller School, and Dr. Marie Denise Gervais, assistant dean for admissions and diversity and director for pre-doctoral education in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, the group formed “simply because a group of women saw a need and stepped forth to pull together a group of like-minded people,” van Zuilen said.

Dr. Lilian Abbo and Dr. Ivette Motola, previous WIAM leaders, remain instrumental in growing the organization, its programs, and its reach. Abbo is chief of infection control and antimicrobial stewardship for Jackson Health System and professor of infectious diseases in the Miller School Department of Medicine and Miami Transplant Institute. Motolais associate professor of surgery in the Division of Emergency Medicine and director of the Division of Prehospital and Emergency Training at the Gordon Center for Simulation and Innovation in Medical Education. The WIAM also receives ongoing support from the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement at the Miller School and its executive director, Nanette Vega, and assistant director of programs, Janet Bringuez-Sanchez.

Today, nearly 665 female faculty members from various areas of medicine come together to promote clinical, scientific, and teaching excellence through the WIAM ERG. While working closely with University leadership to enhance recruitment and retention, the group also advocates for female faculty representation in programming. As an added benefit of the group, members have opportunities to join leadership skills training seminars, mentorship programs, and strategic alliances to support career and personal growth in the medical field.

Among the many strides that have been made over the past decade, the WIAM ERG recently was recognized for its campus, community, and career impact with the Inspiring Affinity Group Award from the publication INSIGHT into Diversity. The group was one of 38 ERGs nationwide to receive the distinction.

In academic medicine, publication opportunities build scholarship, which drives career growth and ultimately leads to promotions and career advancement. Van Zuilen explained that by connecting experts from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, the faculty learning community is able to extend both horizontally and vertically.

“By organically bringing together female faculty around a shared idea, we have been able to model how a small group can have an impact by creating links and breaking down silos,” she said. “When we bring people together for scholarly work, we are able to learn more about where there may be needs for additional support. We also have the opportunity to extend the work to residents, fellows, and trainees—ultimately mentoring our peers and students.”

“I am passionate about ensuring that WIAM remains a diverse and vibrant community, which supports the growth and development of women trainees and faculty—both research and clinical—at the Miller School of Medicine,” said WIAM’s vice president, Dr. Asha B. Pillai, associate professor of pediatrics and microbiology and immunology and deputy director of translational research. She recently accepted a coveted invitation to serve as a member of the Transplantation, Tolerance, and Tumor Immunology Study Section of the National Institute of Health Center for Scientific Review.

“WIAM has a unique role to play in the campus and national discourse and efforts for increased equity in academia, and I am certain with the support of our colleagues and leadership that we can achieve this. We want women to know that they have an organization advocating for culture that supports their professional growth and advancement,” Pillai added.

“I think women often need advocacy and sponsorship from others, especially each other,” van Zuilen said. “But at the same time we have to be mindful to do the same thing for ourselves. I’ve learned that I must be willing to put myself out there and talk about my experiences in order to support my peers. It’s important to practice what you preach,” she added.

ERGs at the University of Miami are supported by Human Resources and open to all faculty and staff with a shared goal of enhancing the University’s culture of belonging. For more information on the WIAM ERG, contact Rose van Zuilen at Learn more about the University's diverse range of Employee Resource Groups.