Elizabeth Leenellett, MD, associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, will serve as a fellow in the 25th anniversary class of the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program for women. Leenellett is one of 60 women nationwide selected for the fellowship which begins Sept. 1, 2019, and runs through April 2020.
The ELAM program offers an intensive one academic year fellowship of leadership training with extensive coaching, networking and mentoring opportunities aimed at expanding the national pool of qualified women candidates for leadership in academic medicine, dentistry, public health and pharmacy.
“ELAM is an amazing program,” says Leenellett. “They provide leadership training on a much higher level, really trying to give women the tools and the skills and the networking that they need in order to become successful.”
Leenellett says there is a clear need for more leadership opportunity for women in academic medicine and points to emergency medicine as an area of potential growth.
“Overall, 51% of medical students nationwide are women, but only 38% go into emergency medicine, and just 27% become academic faculty,” she says. “At the department chair level, only 16% of chairs across the country are women. Thus, you can see how it’s very unbalanced based on what it could be.”
Leenellett is no stranger to leadership positions, having served as associate medical director for the emergency department at Christ Hospital, a position she assumed after joining the UC Department of Emergency Medicine in 1999. At that time, there was only one other full-time female emergency physician in the group.
Leenellett says one key to leadership success is good mentoring. In search of such mentoring, Leenellett reached out to Rick Ryan, MD, and Greg Fermann, MD, both professors and vice chairs in the Department of Emergency Medicine as well as Brian Gibler, MD, who was the chair of the department at that time. She also reached out to Art Pancioli, MD, Professor and current Richard C. Levy Chair of Emergency Medicine. By establishing mentoring relationships with them, she eventually learned of a new opportunity and was promoted to medical director of emergency medicine at UC Health West Chester Hospital in 2010.
In addition to learning a lot from Ryan, Fermann, Gibler and Pancioli, Leenellett says she found a mentor in Dawn Kleindorfer, MD, professor and executive vice chair in the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine. Kleindorfer also serves as the associate dean of Faculty Development and Women’s Initiatives at the College of Medicine. Leenellett says Kleindorfer strongly encouraged her to apply to ELAM.
“She has been a huge sponsor and champion for me and a great role model,” Leenellett says of Kleindorfer. “The ELAM program will provide me with the skills and networking opportunities that I need to take my efforts to the next level.”
Leenellett says in a desire to help other women in the Department of Emergency Medicine, she went to Pancioli with a proposal to become the vice chair of Women’s Initiatives.
“Dr. Pancioli is so supportive,” Leenellett says. “He is one of the strongest feminists that I know.”
With his support, Leenellett recently established the UC Emergency Medicine Program of Women in Leadership (EMPOWER).
“Our number one priority with EMPOWER is the recruitment, retention and promotion of women in emergency medicine,” she says. “Here in the UC Department of Emergency Medicine, we’ve been working on actively increasing the number of female faculty. It’s hard to go into a program not seeing people who look like you. We’re trying to give them the training, skills and opportunities to obtain division directorships and other positions in leadership.”
Part of that process is educational opportunities by way of quarterly conferences to talk about issues within the department. Last fall, thanks to $12,000 that was given to Pancioli by a donor to use in the department, Leenellett and 11 other women in her department were able to attend the Females Working In Emergency Medicine (FemInEM) conference in New York. FemInEM is an open access resource where members explore a variety of issues supporting the development and advancement of all women in medicine.
Leenellett says a newly-established EMPOWER endowment fund has a goal of raising $1,000,000 to continually fund sending women from the department to the FemInEM conference as well as Association of American Medical Colleges conferences. The fund will also support education and training designed to promote gender equality in academic medicine.
Leenellet's efforts are a good example of inclusive excellence in the Innovation Agenda as part of UC's new strategic direction, Next Lives Here.
Leenellett has her eyes on the next level and beyond. Part of being in the ELAM program is having a clear path for what the fellows are going to do in the future.
“My path is EMPOWER currently, and then my future path would be chair of emergency medicine somewhere,” she says. “I think the chair is a very difficult position to be in. Dr. Pancioli gets pulled in so many different directions but he definitely makes a difference in the lives of those of us who work here every day. I would like to be that person for a department.”
Featured image at top: Elizabeth Leenellett, MD, at the entrance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Emergency Department. Photo by Colleen Kelley/AHC Communication Services.