Words of wisdom

With communication and leadership at its center, women from all corners of the MCV Campus convened at this year’s WISDM leadership conference.

By Keith Brooks VCU School of Medicine keith.brooks@vcuhealth.org

May 9, 2022

On Friday, April 29, Women in Science, Dentistry and Medicine, or WISDM, held its 30th annual leadership conference. After going virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the group’s first time holding the event in person since 2019.

Open to all physicians, dentists, pharmacists, scientists and other health care professionals, each year the conference aims to promote leadership skills and facilitate networking and mentorship opportunities among colleagues.

“We really felt that after the isolation that COVID-19 brought, we all need a reminder about how to connect with one another,” said Kim Isringhausen, M.P.H., the associate dean for risk, compliance and human resources at VCU School of Dentistry and past president of WISDM.

With this year's theme being centered on communication, energetic keynote speakers covered topics including active listening, effective negotiation and handling difficult conversations. The half-day event was structured to foster engagement and open discussion among attendees, which included long-time WISDM participants, new faculty members and mid-career professionals looking for fresh opportunities.

“I thought the topics were really relevant,” said Sadia Sayeed, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and a four-year member of WISDM. “Talking about your value, worth, negotiation and conflict resolution, those all seem like topics I am dealing with every day.”

Community and camaraderie

Founded in 1992, WISDM operates with the primary mission to promote and further the professional goals of women physicians, dentists and scientists at VCU. Faculty members collaborate with other groups on the MCV Campus, such as the Women in Medicine Student Organization and Women in Science, which is tailored to graduate students and other trainees involved in scientific research.

Each year, the group presents the WISDM Professional Achievement Award to female role models at VCU who have demonstrated leadership and promoted the professional development of other women in their fields. This year, both Patricia Sime, M.D., chair of the Department of Internal Medicine and Harmeet Chiang, D.D.S, an associate professor at VCU School of Dentistry, were honored for their contributions to their respective practices.

"Mentorship is one of the pinnacles of WISDM,” Isringhausen said. “We look for strong women leaders to mentor other women, and that is a component of the professional achievement award."

By offering membership to faculty at all stages in their careers, WISDM aims to help fill a void that many women face in academic medicine.

“There need to be more mentors,” said Chiang. “I’ve always had to seek out mentors. I feel like if there was a dedicated position for connecting a mentor with a mentee, that would work out better.”

According to a report published by the AAMC on the status of women in academic medicine in 2018-2019, while women represent 41% of full-time faculty, women make up a majority of faculty only among instructors, the lowest academic ranking. Representation decreases with each step up, and only 25% of full professors are women.

The report also reveals that the number of women from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in medicine remains extremely low, with a minimal increase over the years. In 2009, 12% of full-time faculty were women from underrepresented minority groups, and that number grew to only 13% by 2018.

“It’s hard to see diverse role models,” said Sayeed, who noted that as a person of color, she sees fewer women who look like her in higher ranking positions in her field. “It’s hard to picture yourself in a position of leadership when you haven’t seen somebody in that position.”

Getting involved

WISDM membership is available to all women faculty, students, residents, fellows and post-docs at VCU, with a one-time membership fee of $100. Members gain access to all WISDM-sponsored events and activities and have the opportunity to be considered for the annual professional achievement award.

For more information, contact:

WISDM Faculty Organization President
Rita Shiang, Ph.D.

Office of Faculty Affairs
Deborah Stewart