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Adapt leadership program format, content to address needs during COVID-19 pandemic

Written by: Nancy D. Spector
Published on: Aug 17, 2020

What happens when an unprecedented global crisis impacts not only the delivery of a program such as Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM®), but also potentially exacerbates the already vast gender disparities in medicine?

ELAM® is a program designed to prepare women in academic medicine, dentistry, public health, and pharmacy for the highest levels of leadership positions. Over the past 25 years, the program has trained more than 1,000 women   to lead their institutions through times of growth, financial downturns, and significant institutional changes.

The COVID-19 crisis required quick and decisive internal leadership so that we could ensure the delivery of a robust and transformational ELAM experience — even if the ELAM fellowship couldn’t meet in person. Recognizing that many of our current class of fellows were deeply involved with managing the crisis at their home institutions, ELAM leadership saw that there was a need to design a flexible, asynchronous and synchronous version of what would have been a six-day, in-person final session of this year’s fellowship.

We tapped into our faculty and extensive network of alumnae to help us think through and redesign parts of the curriculum so that we could provide up-to-the-minute guidance on leading and managing through crisis and address new issues that arose along the way. This included, among other things, adding a section to our negotiation module on how to successfully negotiate through virtual platforms.

Guidance on COVID-19 fallout on research, including issues such as cybersecurity, distance research, and impact on international collaborations, was added to our managing resources module. And the ELAM team worked with the Director of Coaching to initiate virtual Rapid Response Group Coaching sessions, which were broken out by disciplinary focus, to help our community continue to build its leadership skills during the crisis. Fin the topics of these virtual coaching sessions included Real-Time Leadership in a Live Crisis, Intermediate Leadership Opportunities and Challenges, and Long-term Leadership Dynamics — Evolving the New Normal.

One of the many troubling things that ELAM leadership noticed during this time of crisis was that women were reluctant to leave their institutions for high-level leadership positions and were not joining searches. At the same time, men who were overseeing the searches were requiring that the searches continue. This reluctance could lead to an increased risk that the leadership disparity gap would continue to grow.

To address this, and continue to focus on advancing diversity and ensure parity and equity in leadership searches, ELAM designed a new, interactive webinar for the current class of fellows and alumnae. The webinar was meant to help them consider and find leadership roles in the midst of the current crisis and beyond.

In addition, ELAM has continued to produce scholarly work on gender equity issues so that that the imperatives around promoting and sustaining equity don’t get lost in the greater crisis.

As we move through the next months of the pandemic, ELAM will continue to stretch, innovate, and learn so that the program can always provide the highest quality leadership learning experience no matter the delivery platform.






Dr. Spector is a Professor of Pediatrics and serves in dual roles at the Drexel University College of Medicine: as Executive Director of the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM) program, a part-time year long, national leadership fellowship program for women in academic medicine, dentistry, public health, and pharmacy, and as Associate Dean of Faculty Development. She is a founding member of Time’s Up Healthcare, a member of PROWD (Promoting and Respecting Our Women Doctors) Women and has joined a number of leadership efforts at organizations including the Society of Hospital Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Women Leaders in Global Health conferences. Her contributions to graduate medical education and academic medicine are in leadership skills development, professional development, gender equity, mentoring and sponsorship, and curriculum development and implementation.

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