Create community by starting a Women in Medicine and Science group
The menu was simple: French toast, quiche, and fresh fruit. The small group of women faculty and residents were at the home of Vidhya Prakash, an Infectious Diseases physician at Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine and they didn’t know what to expect.
In true physician-style fashion, they organized themselves symmetrically around the room (two per couch), an even number on each side of the coffee table, and two seated an equal distance apart by the fireplace. Nervous laughter came from the residents, with expressions of, “What am I doing here?” etched across their faces.
After a somewhat awkward silence, Prakash asked the group, “Who’s burned out?” What ensued was a raw and cathartic discussion about work-life integration, living up to society’s impossible expectations, and career stagnancy in a safe space. The once symmetric room transformed into a perfectly imperfect cluster of women in medicine huddled together around the coffee table, finding strength through their shared experiences and truths.
From this group, which began gathering in 2015, an executive committee formed with dedicated chairs organizing educational sessions on topics such as gender equity, community activities (to include fundraising for domestic violence organizations), and social events (to include international potlucks).
In 2018, SIU Department of Medicine’s Women in Medicine group, co-founded by Vidhya Prakash and Susan Hingle, Internal Medicine faculty at SIU School of Medicine, became the Alliance for Women in Medicine and Science (AWIMS) under the guidance of Wendi El-Amin, Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SIU School of Medicine.
The mission of AWIMS includes honest discussion and positive change in the realms of gender equity, career advancement, work-life balance, community service, and professional development of women in medicine and science. There is an advisory board that includes key stakeholders from across SIU School of Medicine and an executive committee that leads the following five initiatives: education, community engagement, research, mentorship and career advancement, and mindfulness and wellness.
Events from each initiative are open to all members of the campus community, as the group aims to create an inclusive environment. The AWIMS list serv contains over three hundred members. The entire community is invited to quarterly educational sessions on topics such as gender equity and sexual harassment. The mentorship program includes mentorship mixers every six months. Wellness initiatives from retreats to wellness forums occur quarterly. Monthly journal and book clubs stimulate powerful discussion and regular community engagement activities help members connect to one another and society. Initially, engaging all members of the SIU community was a challenge. Men did not feel welcome, and many carried the misconception that the group was only open to physicians. Taking the feedback seriously, AWIMS leadership became very intentional in underscoring the importance of inclusion, and the need for diverse viewpoints to fulfill the AWIMS mission.
Personal communication in the form of private conversations and emails with stakeholders to amplify the message of inclusion was the key to success.
From members to leadership, the composition of AWIMS reflects the core tenets of equity, diversity, and inclusion, as people of all genders, scientists, educators and researchers have a seat at the table.
Dr. Prakash is an Infectious Diseases physician and Professor of Clinical Medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. She also serves as Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs in the Department of Internal Medicine. Dr. Prakash is founder and director of SIU Medicine’s Alliance for Women in Medicine and Science. She is chair of the Health and Health Care Committee on the Illinois Council on Women and Girls.
Dr. Pervin is an Assistant Professor of Clinical medicine and an Infectious Disease physician at Southern Illinois University School of medicine. She received her bachelors in medicine and surgery from Dow Medical College, Pakistan, in 2013. She completed her Internal medicine residency in 2017, and Infectious Disease Fellowship in June 2020, from Southern Illinois University. As a resident she was actively involved in the grass root beginnings of Women in medicine at SIU and continues to play an active role in the SIU Medicine’s Alliance for Women in Medicine and Science.