Women in Science and Health fosters community, growth at WVU

As the female workforce has grown over the last three decades – now representing nearly 70 percent of health workers worldwide – faculty and staff at West Virginia University Health Sciences have been supported through the Women in Science and Health Committee (WISH).

The Committee was established in March 1996 as the Women’s Issues Committee within the School of Medicine. Following a survey of female medical students to identify and address concerns, the group established its charge to enhance the advancement of women, establish a network of women faculty, assess the status of women faculty and develop and implement a mentoring program for women.

“Expanding professional development and networking opportunities for women is very important,” said Shelia Price, DDS, associate dean of admissions, recruitment and access in the School of Dentistry and 2007 WISH Award recipient. “Similar to prominent national initiatives, WISH brings together women in a supportive environment on the local level to address shared challenges and strengthen professional networks. With an eye on the future, these groups support women to live up to their potential with unique mentoring, networking and professional development experiences. Strengthening today’s health sciences workforce sets the stage for a promising tomorrow.”

Over the next few years, the Committee focused on annual goals and grew its membership within the School of Medicine. Its expansion in 2003 to include all woman in Health Sciences schools, centers and institutes provided even greater opportunities for representation and inspiration, and the Committee became affectionately known as WISH. Today, WISH welcomes all members of the WVU community, including students and individuals not located on the Health Sciences Campuses, and members of the general public.

The mission of WISH is to foster professional development, wellness and promotion of women in academic science and health and promote successful recruitment and retention of women at WVU Health Sciences. It also strives to empower and enhance transformational leadership through women at the University and in West Virginia.

“Being welcomed into the group was a professional lifeline, giving me direct access to accomplished, inspiring and supportive women in the health sciences,” Dr. Price said. “A spontaneous connectedness with phenomenal physicians and leaders such as Dr. Rashida Khakoo and Dr. Melanie Fisher and collaborating with the likes of Dr. Anne Cather and Dr. Sam Cotton spurred on my involvement. WISH membership helped me combat a gravitational draw associated with feeling like a second-class citizen, a feeling women and minorities often experience in a non-diverse work environment.”

Throughout its nearly 30-year history, WISH has recommended members of the WVU faculty for the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM®) fellowship program and provided financial support for their participation, sponsored numerous networking events, fostered mentor/mentee relationships, and conducted surveys on topics including salary equity and professional climate, among many other activities.

The WISH Awards were established in 2006 and recognized Rashida Khakoo, MD, as the first recipient. Since then, 23 women faculty have been celebrated for their outstanding achievements and/or impact in science and health.

Today, WISH focuses on fostering networking and professional development opportunities for its members as well as community outreach. Events are typically hosted in a hybrid format, allowing individuals from all WVU System campuses to participate.

“My time at WVU has been strengthened through the connections I’ve made through WISH,” said SueAnn Woods, PhD, WISH Committee chair and associate professor and Master of Occupational Therapy program director in the School of Medicine. “I’m confident in establishing collaborations outside of my department thanks to a network of colleagues I’ve interacted with through WISH.”

To join, individuals can reach out to the WVU Health Sciences Faculty Development Program at hscfacultydevelopment@hsc.wvu.edu.

“Colleagues are welcome to join at any time," Woods added. “We’d love to have you collaborate with us!”