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Published in CenterView on January 16, 2012

Women achieve unprecedented levels of governance at UMMC

By Bruce Coleman

When Janet Harris accepted the position of interim chief executive officer of University Hospitals and Health System (UHHS) in December, she did more than break ground as the first woman to helm a major portion of the institution's clinical enterprise.

Harris' appointment also underscored the emergence of women in leadership roles at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

"Janet has proven herself to be a strong and respected leader and I have complete confidence in her in this role," said Dr. James E. Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs, when announcing Harris' appointment.

Harris brings to nine the number of women in high-ranking positions at UMMC. (See below.)

And that doesn't begin to count women who lead individual departments or units at the Medical Center. It's a far different landscape than when Turner first joined the UMMC faculty in 1984.

"At that time, there were few women faculty members and even fewer women in leadership positions," said Turner, who also spent her early career at the G. V. (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center. Although she said there were few women mentors and role models at the time, "I am proud to say that even in the 1980s, I had opportunities for leadership development and always felt valued as a faculty member."

Fast-forward a quarter-century, and Turner now finds herself in the role that was once so rare. Many of the Medical Center's emerging women leaders credit her and other women faculty for providing an invaluable blueprint for their career trajectories.

"Professionally, I have followed the examples of several successful women leaders who set the standard and established a path for me," Taylor said. "Dr. Helen Turner has been a very successful leader at UMC who, despite high rank and heavy responsibilities, is approachable, a good listener and open to sharing her experiences.

"I realize how important this is to nurturing future leaders and feel grateful that I have had Dr. Turner's example to follow."

The rise in women leaders is not isolated at the Medical Center: it mirrors what has been happening at major academic medical institutions throughout the Southeast. But Woodward said the increasing number of women in leadership roles is more than just a trend.

"The increase in physician leaders who are women is a reflection of the increasing diversity of both students and faculty at academic health science centers," Woodward said, "but we still have a long way to go. For example, the average medical school faculty in the U.S. is still only about 34-percent female."

It's a statistic that Turner finds troublesome.

"It is valuable to have women leaders because women bring a unique perspective to health-care education that would otherwise be absent," Turner said. "An increasing number of our health professional students are women. But data has reflected greater numbers of women in the assistant and associate professor ranks and fewer in professor ranks.

"Overall, these numbers are improving, but nationally there still is a disparity of women compared to men at the senior academic faculty ranks."

Harris credits a climate of congeniality among faculty for helping women combat that disparity at the Medical Center.

"I have always been impressed with the openness to women, but more importantly the institutional focus on diversity, here at UMC," Harris said. "The combination of women and men working together brings a broader perspective than either group working alone. As a group, we capture the synergy and talent of all the team members."

Taylor said achieving a professional environment where "talent is recognized and developed, opportunity is accessible and full participation in UMMC's success is available to those who are ready to take the challenge" is crucial to the future growth of good leaders, regardless of gender.

"We need to continue to work towards developing all of the talent here at UMC in order to position the Medical Center to continue to thrive in changing times for health care," Taylor said. "I firmly believe that it is our diversity that is a key element that drives us towards excellence in education, research and clinical care."

For Woodward, the surge in physician leaders at UMMC who happen to be women will be fueled by a strong support system that ultimately disregards gender.

"My personal experience here has been one of available and receptive mentors - both male and female - who have given guidance and advice and exhibited true concern for my professional growth," she said. "Likewise, I encourage young faculty to be proactive and reach out to others for guidance and answers.

"Mentors, teachers and role models aren't always someone of the same gender. Faculty and students alike should realize that important lessons can be learned from anyone: male or female, young or old, inside or outside of your specialty area - even the patients and students.

Leading ladies


  • Dr. LouAnn Woodward, associate vice chancellor for health affairs and vice dean of the School of Medicine;
  • Dr. Helen Turner, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs;
  • Dr. Jasmine Taylor, associate vice chancellor for multicultural affairs and associate dean for multicultural affairs;
  • Dr. Kim Hoover, dean of the School of Nursing;
  • Dr. Shirley Schlessinger serves as associate dean for graduate medical education and interim chair of internal medicine;
  • Dr. Leigh Ann Ross serves as associate dean for clinical affairs in the School of Pharmacy;
  • Dr. Loretta Jackson-Williams serves as associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Medicine; and
  • Dr. Diane Beebe serves as chair of the Department of Family Medicine.