We are thrilled to feature Dr. Sheryl Heron is a Professor and Vice Chair of Administrative Affairs in the Department of Emergency Medicine, the Assistant Dean for Medical Education and Student Affairs on the Grady Campus and Associate Director of Education and Training for the Center for Injury Control at Emory University. We spoke about the need for greater diversity AMONG women in emergency medicine and academic leadership, and why it’s so critical to maintain life “anchors”:
M Lin: Tell me a little bit about where you are in your career and about how it was that you got there.
S Heron: Currently, I’m a professor of Emergency Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, vice chair for the Administrative Affairs in our department, one of our assistant deans for Clinical Affairs in the School of Medicine and right now am the associate director for education and training for the injury prevention resource center at Emory. To say I’ve come a long way in emergency medicine and medicine is no understatement. Arthur Kellerman, visionary who recruited me to Emory really had a big picture in mind, which was to ensure diversity and inclusion in our department and to create a department that would be nationally known and perhaps internationally renowned for our expertise in various domains.
M Lin: Tell me a little bit about your involvement in women-focused professional organizations over the course of your career.
S Heron: You know, it’s an interesting question and I have to say, perhaps, I’m a late breaker to the party for women in medicine. I say that not because it’s not an area of interest and focus for me, but my lens really started out from looking from the lens of being an African-American woman in medicine. Interestingly enough, when I evolved in my life’s journey, I always likened my sort of presence to being that women see me or people see me and the first thing they may see is that I’m African American, or black and perhaps, secondarily, it may be that I’m a woman. The majority of my earlier life really focused on being an underrepresented minority and I’m not really a fan of that term. Frankly, I’m more unrepresented in medicine, which is the most appropriate term. I’ve evolved lately to understand the intersectionality across race and gender and all the other things that make us unique and make us different. My initial foray into organizations that really focused on women was my engagement really with the AAMC, really they were looking at the AAMC Minority Affairs piece, but I was able to meet women and others in medicine through that lens. As I grew and developed at Emory, in particular, I got involved with the Dean’s Committee on the Status of Women here at Emory and started to really appreciate and understand the nuanced differences that women must have together to work together to effect and make change.
M Lin: How do you feel like AWAEM has evolved potentially to meet the needs of professional women of color?
S Heron: It’s interesting, AWAEM certainly a beacon of light for all the other academies, in SAEM with my being the inaugural president for the Academy for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Medicine. I had to say, I didn’t really appreciate nor understand how all of the academies within SAEM could be or should be intricately linked. I have to tell you, when ADIEM was born in 2012, we were myopically perhaps focused on certainly underrepresented in medicine, meaning specifically black people, Latinos and others, because it was born out of the diversity interest group, which over time developed and evolved to the Academy for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Medicine. From my work as a founding chair of ADIEM, it became increasingly clear to me that we are not made up of one part and while we talk about diversity and equity and inclusion, it is really multi factorial what one brings to the equation and their narrative called life. It struck me that, while with intent based on the history of African Americans in medicine, that was the purpose of really focusing on black and Latina, it became clear that working together across all facets of diversity would be a no brainer. In that year of my presidency, we evolved and reached out to our colleagues who are LGBT over the years. I started to examine and look at AWAEM, because there are women, women of color, women of color who are LGBT, women of color who are LGBT who perhaps may have need for accommodations. It became a question of how do we bridge and become stronger together? In looking at AWAEM’s foundation and the people who started it, I was very enamored by the intent, the excellence, the focus, and the ability for AWAEM to serve as a foundational place for other academies to come and joining AWAEM admittedly perhaps, “late to the party” has been really a blessing for me to see women who are leaders, who are galvanizing and mobilizing across the spectrum of women in emergency medicine from medical students to senior leadership. That’s quite inspiring.
M Lin: Tell me a little bit about how organizations like AWAEM can work to continue to meet the needs of diverse women over the next 10 years.
S Heron: I think the one thing would be what I mentioned, which is to really look across the aisle and see how we can intertwine or interweave across the academies. I’m so glad you’re doing something like this in terms of looking at this. We actually presented a poster like this at the group on diversity and inclusion/group on faculty affairs for the AAMC looking at ABIM and how we were able to foster and mentor people of color, African Americans, Latinos, LGBT across our work, by partnering and mentoring. AWAEM in its intentionality can do the very same thing. Clearly when we see the increasing number of women in medicine, we know the data that for the first time, we have 50.7% of women matriculating into medical school, which tells us that AWAEM can continue to look at the pipeline for creating success for women in academics as well as community practice, with a lens towards leadership and a focus on research that is evidence based, because now there are enough and continuing to be enough of a critical mass of women with AWAEM helping to lead the way to do that.
M Lin: You spoke a little bit about how gender has been intertwined it sounds like in your career. Has it ever been a problem for you and your career advancement?
S Heron: The short answer is I didn’t personally feel that my gender might’ve been a barrier for my advancement, but others brought it to my attention that it could have been. Now that said, I can tell you that when I am asked to participate on panels or other arenas in which there are women, I can tell you in full candor, there is a myopic view at times, not all the time, but at times to talk about white women who I love dearly and I bring the voice of, “Well, but wait. In addition to women, white women, there are women of color and there are ways we should intertwine and insure that that narrative is also a part of the conversation.” I’ve spoken about this. I’ve spoken on women’s leadership panel for ASEP a few years ago and brought in the narrative of women of color to say, “Well please don’t ignore and/or forget that women within our women population, we are diverse as well. It’s not just race. It’s also sexuality, it’s also children and child rearing. It’s also aging. It’s all of the pieces of the puzzle. The gender piece is just a small piece, I think of a larger piece, when we look at how women in fill in the blank, all of the pieces that women bring can strengthen our individual as well as collective narrative.
M Lin: What of your many career accomplishments would you say you’re most proud of?
S Heron: Wow, okay. What am I most proud of? You know? I am humbled, let me just say, by the many accolades and awards and all these things that I’ve been privileged and blessed to obtain, but for me personally, it’s about my own personal wellness within my professional space. What I’m most proud of is my ability to maintain my sense of who Sheryl is through all the “accolades”, because at the end of the day, they really don’t matter. When I close my eyes and people may say, “Oh yeah, I remember this and I remember that about Sheryl.” It really for me is to look around and feel that I have impacted the many, many women and men frankly, who are coming up in this world of medicine. This goes into my wellness piece and well-being piece, because if after 22 years I am most proud or can say that I love medicine, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
S Heron: That has nothing to do with my awards. It has everything to do with cultivating who I am as a person, through my faith and my family, to end up in this space and place to be my best self. I can’t really say, “Michelle, you know? The one thing to hang my hat on a thing,” but I can say it’s the multiple of things that has still enabled me to feel empowered by the work that I do. I’m excited about the work that I do and joyful about making a difference for our patients and those around me who are striving to be successful in medicine.
M Lin: I’d say that’s absolutely something to be proud of, so thank you.
Listen to the podcast here.