Disparities persist across levels of surgery department leadership in U.S.

A new Penn Medicine-led study highlights the need for thoughtful leadership planning to increase representation of women and minorities in roles with paths for promotion.

Women and those from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in medicine not only occupy few leadership roles in surgical departments but also tend to be clustered into certain leadership roles, according to a new analysis led by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine. These clusters of roles include vice chairs of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) or wellness, where the promotion path to department chair is unclear.

Fayanju Oluwadamilola.
Fayanju “Lola” Oluwadamilola, Helen O. Dickens Presidential Associate Professor and chief of the Breast Surgery Division. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Medicine News)

The report is published in JAMA Surgery and led by Oluwadamilola “Lola” Fayanju, the Helen O. Dickens Presidential Associate Professor and chief of the Breast Surgery Division, who joined Penn in 2021 and has since become the first Black division chief in the history of Penn’s Department of Surgery.

The field of surgery has long been dominated by white men, who account for nearly half of practicing general surgeons, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. While recruiting a diverse pipeline of physicians has become a priority in recent decades, whether these efforts will translate into diversity at leadership levels will take time to realize. Currently, women represent 14.1% of surgery department chairs, and represent only 8.9% of surgery department leaders at academic medical centers in the United States.

“A longtime metric for success of diversity in medicine is how many women and people from certain backgrounds are department chairs, which represents the pinnacle of achievement in academic medicine,” Fayanju says. “For this study, we wanted to look at multiple levels of leadership, a proxy for trajectory through leadership, across all surgical specialties and ask whether the field is looking at the right pipelines and endpoints to achieve a level of diversity in physician leadership that better mirrors the diversity of our patient population in the U.S.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.