Patricia Sime, M.D., chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, is this year’s recipient of the American Thoracic Society‘s Elizabeth A. Rich Award. The latest on an extensive list of accomplishments and honors for Sime, this award recognizes extraordinary women for their leadership and contributions to the fields of pulmonology, critical care and sleep medicine.

Carrying a legacy

Since 2000, this award has been presented by the American Thoracic Society in honor of Elizabeth A. Rich, M.D. Rich was a highly specialized and respected member of the professional organization, and before her untimely death in 1998, she had become a world-renowned expert in pulmonary alveolar macrophage, tuberculosis and AIDS, inspiring future doctors to come after her.

“I was both excited and humbled to receive this award,” said Sime, adding that the society has a long history of contributing to the field through research, patient care, public health and mentorship.

Inspired by the legacy of Rich, Sime honors her memory by prioritizing mentorship and collaboration to promote the advancement of treatment.

“One of the joys of serving in academic medicine is the chance to help identify and fuel the talents of the next generation of our future clinical and academic stars,” said Sime. “Really this award belongs to all my mentees and team members with whom I have had the good fortune to collaborate, sharing our successes and challenges as we have sought to bring about the best of care to our patients and families.”

Representation matters

While nearly half of graduating medical students are female, women remain an underrepresented group in senior leadership in academic medicine. A 2020 report published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, reveals that only 25% of full-time medical professors and 18% of medical department chairs are women.

According to a 2019 study by the National Library of Medicine, female physicians are less likely to have mentors throughout their careers, contributing to the lack of representation among leadership in academic medicine. This professional disparity has been shown to have negative implications for both patient care and educational outcomes.

For Sime, mentorship has been crucial in her career, and she emphasizes the importance of carrying forward the same support and leadership she's had both personally and professionally. As a mentor and leader herself, she noted that defining and articulating a “north star” is critical to the success of an entire team.

“Mentoring is key to success in many areas of life, and I believe female leaders can be wonderful, talented and caring mentors," said Sime. "I have been blessed by amazing women in my own family as well in many professional settings. We all have unique skills, and I enjoy helping other women find their passion while trying to remove real and perceived barriers to professional growth.”

Self-recognition and demonstrating integrity are some of the values that Sime attributes to her success and as a guide to becoming an effective leader.

“Strong leaders serve with integrity, trust, compassion and are passionate about their goals,” said Sime. “Share your passion with others as you strive to reach your goals, make an impact and develop your teams. Listen intently to those around you, enabling the quiet voices to be heard.”