GUEST POST: Opportunities for Women Mean Opportunities For Everyone

September is Women in Medicine Month and we celebrate those who offer their support to advance women with careers in medicine. While there are still ways to go, women have made great strides in the field.

In terms of medical school students, the AAMC has reported that in the decade from 2006-2016, female first-time applicants have steadily increased from under 15,000 to about 20,000 applicants. In fact, the number of female enrollees reached a 10-year high in 2016. 

Most recently at the College of Human Medicine, women made up the majority in four of our last five entering classes and averaged over 54% of the classes in that span.

As the month comes to a close, we reached out to our Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Dr. Dianne Wagner, to discuss a bit of her story and the changes she has witnessed for Women in Medicine.


It is a great time to be a woman in medicine.

I often talk about how “internal medicine chased me down.”  As a third year medical student, I pondered my future specialty, and made an initial decision to become a pathologist.

The pathologists that had been my teachers were impressive in their knowledge of disease and were skilled in transmitting their love of medicine as a noble and learned profession.  And I wanted to have a family. It seemed like pathology might make that less challenging.

My internal medicine clerkship was my first one, and it got off to a rocky start.  I was struggling to figure out the “ropes” as I watched my intern, senior resident and attending interact with patients and with each other.  I felt like an outsider.  My performance was anything but impressive. It was a long first month.

The service changed and a new attending, senior resident and intern led the team.  It happened that the senior resident was a woman.  I watched as this different patient care team “formed/stormed/normed and performed” just like the group did the previous month.  This time I had more skills and could contribute more.

I knew some of the patients better than anyone else on the team and felt useful as I was asked questions and could answer them meaningfully.  Many of the patients I cared for during that clerkship introduced me to the new crew as “my doctor” even though I carefully corrected them.  Nevertheless, it felt wonderful to be the person they identified as most involved in their care.

The attending, senior resident and intern changed one more time during my 12 week internal medicine clerkship—but it was that fifth week that set the course of my professional life.  I watched my senior resident take care of patients and lead our team and realized by watching her that I could do the same.

The year was 1979 and it was somewhat unusual to be able to work on a team with another woman. I had planned to become a pathologist, but it turned out that internal medicine was the specialty that spoke to me.

I became one of the first pregnant residents in my CHM-sponsored internal medicine residency program, then one of the first part time faculty members in the CHM Department of Medicine, and one of the first “ambulatory only” internists in my area.

Internal medicine as a specialty and the College of Human Medicine have been very, very good to me.

Medical school classes are replete with heterogeneity now.  So is the hospital.  An individual can look around and see others like them—often look to a role model that enables them to envision their future and how their lives might unfold, or at least what the challenges are going to be.
It is better for students and faculty to interact with all that collective wisdom, and it is better for patients to be cared for by physicians who have trained amidst that wisdom—who  have experienced a more comprehensively constructed journey.

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine has employed holistic admissions policies for decades—dedicating its admissions process to producing entering classes with great “collective wisdom” and a culture that embraces working together to become excellent at what physicians do; care for all patients utilizing best evidence, empathy, and compassion.

There are great opportunities for women in medicine, and great opportunity for all who want to serve others and make their lives better.

Join us! Opportunities for women mean opportunities for everyone.

Dianne Wagner, MD, FACP, graduated from the Abraham Lincoln School of Medicine at the University of Illinois-Chicago and is currently Associate Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Dr. Wagner also serves as a Professor of Medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine.


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