About six years ago, the Dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine had an idea. She wanted more women in the School of Medicine to consider their futures as leaders. To become not only physicians, scientists and advocates, but to become leaders of their communities as future program directors, department heads, chief medical officers and deans. The group started as a team of six medical students who were passionate about women in leadership. Now, we have been able to reach not only female medical students, but both male and female residents, faculty, and staff and have hopefully made a difference in the lives of others. 

At our core we are women with passion for medicine, education, research, advocacy, and policy.  We are also women who believe in striving for our individual success, while simultaneously creating and holding space for our peers to be successful. We are WE WILL: Women Expanding Women in Leadership, a group of women striving to empower the female physicians of today and tomorrow

Looking back, it wasn’t very hard to make our small group into a large force, but we though it appropriate to share how to create such a forceful group at any medical school . . . or any organization for that matter.  First, start with the passion.  Our group was founded on these ideals – Leadership, Excellence, and Professionalism, and although we didn’t even make a name until three years in, we all shared this focus.  From a humble handful of female medical students and a female dean, in the past few years, the group has expanded to include several representatives from each medical class, as well as a faculty mentor and a male mentor who is a director of education strategy.  Our conversations were powerful, but we needed to reach more people.  We have expanded our small group discussions to create programming for the entire student body in the School of Medicine, empowering everyone, but especially women, to realize their professional goals.

After passion, we needed to have impact.  Last year we held our first large scale event: a half-day workshop where women from all levels of training came together to network and learn from one another. The event opened with a panel featuring four exceptional female physicians from different disciplines, including our faculty mentor from EM, our Dean of curriculum from Med-Peds, a senior researcher from oncology, and the female chair of Medicine.  All women.  All leaders.  All inspiring humans from different departments who hold important positions of leadership within the School of Medicine and the hospital. They set the tone for the rest of the morning by sharing their personal journeys in medicine, from being first year medical students to residency to how they got to their current positions. They celebrated successes, but they were also candid about their challenges. While they came from different backgrounds and had different stories, they shared a passion for their work and evident enthusiasm to help guide trainees down their own career paths. Following the panel, we had small break-out sessions which covered such themes as self-advocacy, work-life balance, mentorship, and navigating a career in medicine. These sessions were designed to be very personal. We organized each session in advance to include approximately one physician for every two students, allowing these smaller groups to dive deeper than the session theme. Residents and Chief Residents were included in these groups.  No topic was off limits. We talked about how to succeed in medical school while engaging in opportunities for professional development. We talked about how to become a leader in medical school by reaching out to both mentors and fellow students to start interest groups, research projects, and to engage in community service. We talked about prioritizing personal wellness.  We helped students connect with attendings and residents as mentors, or to shadow. We came together as human beings who shared a common goal – to be the best physician.  It was a great reminder of how passionate and driven female physicians and medical students are, and we owe the success of our event to all of the students, attendings, and residents who attended.

Next, after making a big impact, we have been able to expand the connection and mentorship through smaller, more intimate events, saving a large annual spring event as a cornerstone to our mission.  As a team, the women of WE WILL are working to become leaders in our medical community. We are developing programming specifically geared to each class of medical students, with events for first- and second-year students focused on subjects like finding mentors and understanding gender disparities in medicine, and events for third- and fourth-year students to pursue positions of leadership in residency and their careers.

We hosted a lunch time mixer targeted at MS1-2’s career exploration, which included theme tables in which respected female residents and attendings could just talk about their career paths, pearls and pitfalls.  We are hosting an evening cocktail event for MS3-4’s that discusses the “Birds Eye View” of what it is “really like” to be out there as a female academic faculty member.  We learned that you can never please everyone, but simple things like calendar reminders for faculty, and a cheat sheet for students that include common questions to ask and a list of available mentors and their email contacts can go a long way to making an event memorable.  We are now planning our next large-scale workshop, hoping to improve upon our event last year to foster even deeper discussions and create a better experience for our attendees.  Ultimately, we aspire for our workshops to be able to help female medical students cultivate resilience, confidence, and strength.

We are in a new era of Medicine; one where the majority of healthcare providers are women; strong, capable, intelligent, thoughtful, empathetic women who strive to deliver the best care possible to their patients and who work hard to empower the next generation of female medical leaders. Our hope is that WE WILL will play a small role in this. With passion, impact, and then deep connection, we feel that anything is possible in mentoring women leaders.  We are really excited for the future of WE WILL and the future of similar programs across the country. We are even more excited for the future of Medicine.

This piece was written by Roselyn Neville, Shreya Sreekantaswamy, Guinn Dunn, Megan Fix MD on behalf of the WE WILL Leadership Group and the University of Utah.