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    Original Investigation
    Medical Education
    July 22, 2020

    A Qualitative Analysis of Career Advice Given to Women Leaders in an Academic Medical Center

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
    JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(7):e2011292. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.11292
    Key Points español 中文 (chinese)

    Question  What advice regarding the workplace and management strategies are perceived as useful to women leaders in academic medicine?

    Findings  In this qualitative study based on responses from 40 women leaders at the Mayo Clinic, we found that advice could be grouped into 4 categories: leadership styles are perceived as having gendered qualities, a strategic process is required to gain leadership skills, conflicts between personal life and the workplace will occur and should not be a deterrent, and leadership pathways for women involve inevitable hurdles.

    Meaning  The findings of this qualitative study suggest that a long-term view of attaining gender equity for women leaders at academic medical centers will require a combination of programs, including disruptive institutional initiatives and grassroots efforts; 1 approach involves highlighting and disseminating career advice received by female leaders, particularly advice that others have found helpful.


    Importance  Women in academic medicine continue to face systemic obstacles on their paths to leadership. In addition to improving recruitment and advancement opportunities, academic medical centers must facilitate a cultural shift that ensures sustained leadership pathways for women.

    Objective  To better understand, from the perspective of women leaders, the workplace and cultural changes that need to take place in academic medicine to increase inclusivity and gender equity.

    Design, Setting, and Participants  This qualitative study of 40 women physicians and administrators with senior leadership roles at Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center and research institution with campuses in Arizona, Florida, and Minnesota, examined participants’ responses to a question regarding their paths to leadership. Replies were submitted between November and December 2018.

    Main Outcomes and Measures  Women were asked to describe career advice (positive or negative) they had received that was the hardest to accept but, in retrospect, turned out to be valuable.

    Results  Of 40 participants, 25 (63%) were physicians and 15 (37%) were administrators at Mayo Clinic; 27 (68%) had achieved the role of chair or the administrative equivalent. Career experience ranged from 6 to 40 years. Of the 40 women leaders queried, 38 (95%) provided written responses, which were separated into the 4 following categories: leadership styles are perceived as having gendered qualities, attaining leadership skills involves a strategic learning process, collisions between personal life and the workplace should not deter individuals from pursuing leadership roles, and leadership pathways for women involved hurdles. These categories represented a roadmap illuminating perceptions about the academic medical workplace.

    Conclusions and Relevance  These findings link generalizable principles to help to drive new strategies for gender parity. Shifting the culture of academic medicine begins with fully understanding impediments to women’s advancement. The advice women leaders recounted offered a roadmap as well as a glimpse of the extra effort required for women to succeed amid some of the system’s limitations and obstacles. A more complete understanding of gender biases may help to shape future programs to expand inclusivity and establish sustained leadership paths for women.