Emergency med chair says education can lead to eliminating gender inequity

Art Pancioli, MD, says his eyes were opened once he began learning more about gender inequity. The education made him realize he had been a part of the problem.

He recalled reading the book “Women Don’t Ask,” which anecdotally describes workplace inequities. He says the stories in the book were “so palpably relevant to me I frankly realized I was unconsciously part of the problem. That hurt. It really hurt, but I learned.”

Pancioli, professor and the Richard C. Levy Endowed Chair of Emergency Medicine, says the issue jumped to the forefront for him several years ago when department faculty member Elizabeth Leenellett, MD, discussed it with him and suggested an effort to help women faculty advance in their careers. The effort grew into UC EMPOWER, UC Emergency Medicine Program of Women in LeadERship.

That and other efforts that Pancioli supported and tirelessly advocated for helped him recently be named the recipient of the #IStandWithHer Award, that he received during the national Women in Medicine conference in Chicago in late September.

For many years he has worked to support women faculty and change the culture of the department. When discussing the topic, he directs the credit to Leenellett for what the department has achieved. “This award really comes down to recognition of work done in our department, especially by Dr. Leenellett. I just happen to be the signatory on a lot of the efforts,” he says.

But Pancioli has pushed as hard as anyone in the department on this issue. He has worked to ensure that new women faculty, of which there has been a doubling in number since he became chair in 2010, are paid equally and have equal opportunities as their male counterparts.

“When I hire someone, I’m gender agnostic, as we should be. We show deidentified salary for men and women based on academic rank and years of service. The male and female salaries are absolutely superimposable. It’s dead even,” he says proudly. “For decades, in almost every industry, medicine included, same-ranked females are often paid less. We absolutely know for certain that that does not happen in this department.”

In her letter nominating Pancioli for the #IStandWithHer Award, Leenellett wrote: “Art is one of the most ardent feminists that I know. He has a relentless passion for gender equity. I feel that he epitomizes the ideals that the award represents.”

She cited how he has appointed women to departmental leadership positions, including vice chair of women’s initiatives, residency program director, medical director of the Emergency Department at West Chester Hospital-UC Health, medical student clerkship directors, ultrasound director, global health director and resident research director.

Ellen Leenellett

Elizabeth Leenellett, MD

“It is with deliberate intention that he seeks to alter the composition of his staff so that there are enough role models who can then serve as mentors and sponsors for the upcoming tide of women seeking leadership opportunities. Like any great leader, he plans for the sustainability of change for the future,” she wrote.

Pancioli says the promotion of women faculty has been very intentional. “The number of high-ranking leaders creates role models for our women trainees. You have to have that. You have to have mentorship for people to believe in their own futures.”

Leenellett, an associate professor who was one of only three full-time women faculty in emergency medicine when she joined UC in 1999, says Pancioli “understands the challenges that women face, and he strives to rectify the situation. By educating himself. By providing funding and support for the women in his department to get leadership training. Art is an advocate for his entire faculty, but he recognizes that sometimes women need a boost to even get to the table much less sit at the table. He invests his time, his support and his capital to help us succeed.”

Pancioli brought in a consulting firm, The Gild Collective, which specializes in gender inclusion and women’s leadership training, to lead a workshop for all faculty on implicit bias. And he says the reaction has been very positively received.

“What was amazing was that some of the men came to me when they realized just how much implicit bias was part of their colloquialism and they were viscerally affected by this, and I know they’re now becoming part of the solution. This isn’t something you change in a day. You change it slowly and with intention,” he says.

Additionally, The Gild Collective presented a workshop for women faculty, residents and advanced practice providers called “Creating Solutions for Gender Issues.”

Pancioli and many of his faculty also have attended several conferences on the topic.

“You have to educate yourself as a leader,” Pancioli says. “Until you understand gender inequity you don’t realize how pervasive it is. But when you do, and when you expose it, then you can begin to extinguish it. Education is the cure to most social ill. You start with education because once a problem is really well understood, and it’s understood by everybody involved, you can embody the solution as opposed to being part of the problem.”

Pancioli believes that these efforts have aided in having the last two incoming 14-member emergency medicine residency classes being majority women. He also sees strengthened bonds within the department. And he believes that these efforts translate into improved care for their patients.

“Outcomes are better when you create a culture where team members know each other personally and care about each other,” he says. “If you feel cared for as a person and are part of a workforce that is a true team, you’re going to be happier in your workday. Our work is hard. We take care of the sickest of the sick, the poorest of the poor and some of the most challenging patients on the planet. And, believe it or not, not every patient treats our clinicians well. Our day can be an emotional assault. Teamwork, respect, a belief in each other and a generally happy work environment allows us to take care of those extraordinarily difficult situations with composure, compassion and empathy.”

Pancioli says he hopes what has worked so well in emergency medicine could work in other departments at the College of Medicine and in emergency medicine departments across the country.

“Emergency Medicine is a specialty that began here at the University of Cincinnati. The fact that ours was the first residency training program in the world is really cool. We are the cradle of our specialty. As such, this department always has been a national leader, and we constantly try to recruit the best of the best for talent. Half of our workforce in America are women and if we are smart and if we create an undeniably equitable culture in our department, we will continue to recruit the best talent.”

Pancioli adds “We already have the best emergency medicine training program. We truly get to train the best in emergency medicine. What an honor.”

When he received his award, Pancioli told the packed ballroom: “How is it possible that there's a social problem that we can name–gender inequity–that we can define, and in so many ways we can quantify, and yet it remains persistent and pervasive? It's a true social problem and, in my opinion, true social problems can be solved. The No. 1 tactic is education. And let me humbly tell you, it worked on me.”

Photos by Colleen Kelley/UC Creative Services