Since the early 1970s, the numbers of women entering medical school and, subsequently, academic medicine have increased substantially. However, women faculty have not advanced at the expected rate to senior academic ranks or positions of leadership. In 1996, to counter this trend, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office on Women's Health included women's leadership as a required component of the nationally funded Centers of Excellence in Women's Health to identify effective strategies and initiate model programs to advance women faculty in academic medicine.
The authors describe the experience of Centers at seven U.S. medical schools in initiating and sustaining leadership programs for women. The processes used for program formation, the current programmatic content, and program evaluation approaches are explained. Areas of success (e.g., obtaining support from the institution's leaders) and difficulties faced in maintaining an established program (such as institutional fiscal constraints and the diminishing time available to women to participate in mentoring and leadership activities) are reviewed. Strategies to overcome these and other difficulties (e.g., prioritize and tightly focus the program with the help of an advisory group) are proposed. The authors conclude by reviewing issues that programs for women in academic medicine will increasingly need to focus on (e.g., development of new kinds of skills; issues of recruitment and retention of faculty; and increasing faculty diversity).