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Advancing the careers of women in academic medicine

Studies have shown that low expectations for particular groups of people often cause these people to perform poorly, becoming something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, how do you counteract the effects of negative expectations?

Researchers at Stanford's medical school are embarking on an interesting approach to this situation by examining how a phenomenon known as "stereotype threat" may affect women engaged in academic medical careers. Stereotype threats are situations in which individuals find themselves being evaluated on the basis of a negative stereotype.

Women have long been in the minority in the faculty ranks at the nation's medical schools, especially among the ranks of full professors. With the aid of a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, a team led by Hannah Valantine, MD, will try to identify some of the reasons that women don't advance up the career ladder at the same rate as their male counterparts.

After first identifying the cues that trigger stereotype threat among women who are junior faculty members, the team will develop and test strategies aimed at counteracting the cues.

"Currently, the factors that prevent women from advancing in academic medical careers are ambiguous, and medical school administrators end up guessing as to how to best to address them," Valantine recently told me. She hopes the study will give them concrete guidance as to the best ways to help women move forward in their careers.

Previously: Molly Carnes: Gender bias persists in academia

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