For our first episode, we are so excited to feature Dr. Kathleen Clem. Among her many stellar accomplishments, she served as the founding president of AWAEM in 2009. She’s a true pioneer of emergency medicine— she was the first female division chief in the department of surgery and the first chair of the academic department of emergency medicine at Duke before serving as chair at Loma Linda University, her alma mater. She talks about how advocating for women does not mean hating men, and how the academy first began as a tiny interest group, and how it’s evolved into a nearly-400 member strong organization.

Tell us about what you do currently.

K Clem: Currently, I’m the chief clinical officer for a healthcare system that oversees 47 hospitals in nine states. I oversee not only emergency medicine, but also multiple academic programs for residencies that are in our facilities, relationships with other academic institutions, as well as the clinical enterprise for all of these hospitals.

How did you end up where you are now?

K Clem: Well, I would say that AWAEM has been there for me from the beginning. Since its inception, I was privileged to be the very first inaugural president of AWAEM, and wrote the charter for that. I will tell you that the co-mentoring that has occurred between the AWAEM leaders throughout the system has been very instrumental in my career growth. I would not be able to do what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for my AWAEM tribe. Not only was I the inaugural leader, but I’ve been able to stay involved with many of these other leaders, as well as the current AWAEM members. This has afforded me opportunities for career growth that would not be there. The networking is unprecedented.

When did you first notice the need for an organization like AWAEM?

K Clem: I was a member of the Mentoring Women Interest Group at SAEM. I’ve been a part of SAEM since the beginning of my career because I love academics. I love teaching. SAEM has been very helpful to me in my career growth, as leader, as division chief, academic chair, and also for my professional development as an educator, but I will tell you what I saw was such a paucity of women leaders in academia. The Mentoring Women Interest Group was the right idea, but it had not moved forward. We ended up with three or four people meeting, and we just talked to each other, but it needed to be more, so a task force was formed. It was on academic women in academic emergency medicine. As it was birthed out of that taskforce that we developed this Academy for Women in Academic Emergency Medicine. It has just taken off because is recognized we need a place to be anchored, to be focused, to come together, to promote each other, and provide resources. AWAEM does all of that.

What motivated you to step up to the inaugural president position?

K Clem: I think I stepped up primarily because I knew I needed it, and then I looked around, and so did my colleagues. It just wasn’t there, and so, if not us, then who? We just linked arms, and made it happen.

Can you describe any other specific AWAEM initiatives that may have impacted your career or careers of AWAEM members?

K Clem: I think the fact that we promote each other, we provide awards that people can rightfully post into their CVs really helps women to advance. We also make sure that women have opportunities for speaking, which is really a very important part of career growth. I’ll also say the fact that we are able to provide letters for promotion because we know each other. We network within the group, so when you need a letter for promotion, and it’s outside your institution, where do you go? Now there’s a place to go.

Can you describe how leadership in AWAEM and other professional organizations is considered for the purposes of academic advancement, for example promotion?

K Clem: I don’t know of an institution that doesn’t look at leadership for one of the criteria for promotion, particular as you advance to a full professor leader. Every insitution wants to see that their faculty not only can lead in their own insitution, but they also have national involvement. This is an opportunity for national involvement that is now available to women in academic emergency medicine that did not exist before. It’s structured. It provides the opportunities for us to tap into those speakers because we know each other. We know who has expertise. We also promote each other, so that the opportunities come to us instead of us having to seek them.

Can you describe perhaps some of the unique traits of AWAEM in contrast to some other women-focused professional organizations?

K Clem: Well, the first thing I would say is it’s emergency medicine. We get it. We all speak the same language. You walk in the room and you don’t have to say anything. We’re all in there with the same understanding of what we do every single day. We understand the challenges. We understand the battles. We just get how to support each other. When you walk in the door and that’s already there, you have such a leg up. I would say that once you pass that barrier, and people realize that is what you get as a member of AWAEM, it’s invaluable.

Tell me how AWAEM has changed since its inception.

K Clem: I think that when I’m an old woman sitting on my front porch in my rocking chair, I’m going to look at AWAEM, and know this is something really good I helped to start. It has grown beyond what I ever anticipated. I’m so impressed with the leaders that are, yourself included. The quality of the women who are bringing this out, the research that has come about because of this, is, I just didn’t realize the potential this has ignited and has taken place. I would say it’s beyond what I dreamed. When we started, we had so many things that we were trying. We just launched all kinds of things, and then as we coalesced, and say, “Well, this didn’t work.” So we’d stop that. Then we’d say, “This is working.” We’d move forward with that. The things that we have moved forward with for the research, and the publications, and the networking, those have just taken off in ways I never anticipated.

How do you anticipate the professional needs of Women in Academic Emergency Medicine will evolve in the next 10 years?

K Clem: I think that the need for networking is going to be even more important than it is now. I believe that there will be much more of our ability to do research because of the data will be more accessible due to all of the electronic resources. We will have to work on that together to keep our research focused. I think that having AWAEM together as a resource to help us decide where is it that we can best put our efforts and come together will be even more important as we go in the future, as we move forward in the future. I also see that the way we teach will be different, and we need to continue to address the unique needs for women in learning, and the way that we interface with our profession, and the way that we bring the next generations of Women in Academic Emergency Medicine forward. We have to be flexible. We have to be nimble. We have to listen to the next generation so that we truly can be there for them. I see that happening within AWAEM. We will be an important focus, an important resource in the next 10 years.

Can you describe the first time you realize didn’t gender had impacted your career?

K Clem: I didn’t join women in medicine groups for a while because the first few meetings I went to, at full disclosure, I went in, and the whole focus on the meeting was bashing men. I just couldn’t get there. It took me probably, I’m going to say six or seven years into my career when all of a sudden, I realized I needed my women colleagues in ways I didn’t recognize. Everything is fine until it isn’t. What’s why is just for you to have that network already there. I hear women say, “Oh, I just don’t need that. I’m doing fine. I like men.” Well, I like men too. I like working with them. I appreciate them, and there are times when you need women colleagues. There’s nobody else that can help you when you get to a certain point.

K Clem: I would say when it finally hit me was when I experienced some true gender bias that all of a sudden I said, “It’s real.” It was sitting on a committee when my values weren’t recognized, and somebody else stole them, and claimed them as their own. Many of us have had that experience. All of a sudden I realized, this is real, and who do I reach out to? I decided I’m going to be that person. I’m going to make sure I am that person. I am setting up a network so that all of us have what we need when that happens, and we have the resources.

It’s so exciting. Now I walk into a room and women understand, and women understand how they need to promote each other. They can all say it to each other. They can say it back, and then I see them actually doing it. That is exciting.                 

What career accomplishment or accomplishments would you say that you’re most proud of?

K Clem: I’ll have to AWAEM at one of the top on my list. I would also say fighting the battles that needed to be fought to establish the specialty of emergency medicine at Duke University is something I’m very proud of. I would also say every single medical student, every single resident that I’ve had the opportunity to mentor and teach. I think about the lives that they are continuing to touch as they practice emergency medicine, and the ripple effect. I think for every educator is you can’t even comprehend the good, the potential for that. When I sit back and think about that, you can hear the smile in my voice.

What advice might you give a younger version of yourself or an AWAEM member at an earlier stage of her career that perhaps you didn’t know at that time?

K Clem: I know that we’re being told to say no. I say yes. I’m so glad that I said yes to the opportunity to chair the taskforce for Women in Academic Emergency Medicine. I am so glad that I said yes to multiple opportunities along the way. If you put a timeframe around your yes, then it isn’t a life sentence, and you get the opportunity to try things that you might not know you’re good at. I also would say listen to the people outside of yourself that recognize traits in you, you don’t know you have, and say, “You’d really be good at that.” I wish I had known to listen to that, and not brush it off. I’m glad I didn’t listen and say yes, but I would also say I want to be that person, and all of you be that person. Look for the traits in others they don’t know they have, and tell them, “You’re good at that.” You should consider doing more of what you’ve seen in that person. I think that when we do that, as women, we actually all benefit because our collective talent gets realized.

Can you name three other AWAEM members we should consider interviewing for this project?

K Clem: I think if I were to list them all, we’d probably be here longer than this whole interview would last, but the top three I would think of would be Stephanie Abbuhl, Gloria Kuhn, and Esther Choo. I think they have been the most instrumental in helping AWAEM to be what it is with me, but I wouldn’t end with that list. I just want you to know there are so many very talented, gifted women that have been involved, so don’t stop with that list.

Any closing thoughts?

K Clem: If you are a woman, and you are in academic emergency medicine, join AWAEM.

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