Sharon Gustowski, DO, MPH, FAAO, Kansas City campus College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean
It’s Women in Medicine month and an opportunity to reflect upon being a woman in academic medicine a year into deanship at the Kansas City University College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCU-COM). In academic medicine, currently, 33 percent of deans osteopathic medical schools and colleges are women 1. This is on par with allopathic counterparts, of whom women comprise 27 percent of deans of allopathic medical schools 2. As a mixed-race (Pacific Islander and Caucasian) woman, I am proud to offer representation. My first experience as a leader was with the Nevada Osteopathic Medical Association (NOMA).
I had the privilege of becoming president in 2010 and met my first woman leadership mentor in 2005, Denise Selleck, CAE, the Executive Director of NOMA at the time. She shared knowledge, wisdom and feedback from her many years in the osteopathic profession and even showed me the ropes my first American Osteopathic Association House of Delegates (AOA HOD) meeting. It was at an AOA HOD meeting that I met Dr. Karen Nichols, a graduate of KCU-COM class of 1981, who became the first woman president of the AOA in 2010. Next year, in 2024, a second woman president will be elected, Dr. Teresa Hubka. The American Medical Association elected its first woman president in 1998, whom I met as a student. Since then, the AMA has elected six women presidents.
My medical school class was one of the first to achieve gender equity and many osteopathic specialty colleges, societies and state organizations have represented women well. For example, the American Academy of Osteopathy, my specialty organization, has had 17 women presidents since its inception. KCU-COM has had multiple women deans. I thank the men who supported women leaders and the women leaders who were pioneers and opened doors. But time and time again, I have sat in women’s leadership development programs specifically for women and therefore men were not in attendance--where women spoke up, spoke out, and talked through challenges without the input or attention of our male colleagues. Where topics like hiring and pay equity, sexism in the workplace, traditional gender cultural norms/expectations, and motherhood were discussed. It’s time to change and invite men to women’s leadership discussions. And for men to take initiative and join us at our table, as Dr. Carlton Abner, KCU Associate Provost for Campus Health and Wellness, did when he recently attended the Women of Color Leadership Conference at the University of Missouri-Kansas City this year.
We will all gain from open dialogue and the opportunity to learn and grow with each other. As Dr. Nichols reminds us when speaking on leadership, “you win, or you learn.” Let’s learn from our past and make new decisions for our tomorrow. Let’s find ways to close all the gaps of gender representation in osteopathic leadership.