Christensen named AAMC award winner

Group on Women in Medicine and Science honors her work in gender equity

Heather Christensen, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Education, has been named to receive the Emerging Leadership Award for an Individual from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Group on Women in Medicine and Science (GWIMS).

The award honors Christensen for her work in contributing to women’s advancement and gender equity, mentoring and sponsoring women to become leaders, influencing other leaders in the recruitment, retention and promotion of women and improving the educational and professional environment for sustaining women in academic medicine and science.

“I’m incredibly honored to receive this award and blessed to be a part of a community that values and recognizes this work,” Christensen says. “Exploring the state of gender equity in academic medicine is important. It involves difficult conversations, a lot of vulnerability, and the identification of allies—all critical as we work to make our institution, and the field as a whole, better. Even more, the opportunity to engage medical students in this research has been fantastic. Training future physicians how to see, discuss and address issues of gender equity is equally as important as the published works themselves. I’m excited to keep this work moving forward.”

Christensen, who has been a faculty member at the college for four years, was nominated for the honor by Aaron Marshall, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Medical Education.

“Her eagerness and aptitude for elevating female students to better the professional culture they will be a part of is unmatched by many. Because of her authentic connection with the students, her achievements become successes for our learners—the future physicians and research scientists—in that Dr. Christensen sets an example of effective leadership by a woman. Her widespread work in advocating for equity and inclusion has created visibility that elevates our institution to effect change,” Marshall wrote in his nomination letter. “The college and the larger field of medical education is grateful for her excellence, and I believe that she is a prime example of the agentic leader that this award is designed to recognize.”

Among the several examples of Christensen’s impact at the College of Medicine Marshall included in his nomination was her work as an executive committee member for the university’s chapter of Women in Medicine and Science (WIMS) for the last three years. She is currently the co-president of the group.

“In this role, she advances women’s careers by creating programs for leadership development, building sponsorship opportunities for both clinical and basic science faculty, and working with the group to develop and promote policy changes,” he wrote.

Among her efforts with WIMS were exploring additional institutional childcare, recognizing this as a barrier to recruitment and retention of outstanding talent, and speaking with academic medical institutions across the country to create a model for leadership in women’s initiatives.

Portrait of Dr. Heather Christensen

Heather Christensen, PhD

Christensen currently is working on several student research projects, investigating the impact of gender ratios in small group learning, qualitative analysis of how faculty and medical student gender influences clerkship evaluations, and understanding how gender effects medical student self-evaluation. She presented some of this work recently at the Sex and Gender Health Education Summit virtual meeting. Christensen also will be presenting. at the Women in Medicine conference later this year. Additionally, she is collaborating with colleagues on a national survey to assess the gender-equity impact of COVID-19, specifically on medical educator faculty.

Christensen serves as the College of Medicine’s liaison to the AAMC for gender equity. In this role, she is reviewing best practices and making recommendations for improving the recruitment and retention of female faculty. Last year, she founded a new subcommittee for the International Association of Medical Science Educators called “Encouraging Growth and Advocacy in Gaining Equity,” or EnGAGE. Assembling a team of seven faculty from across the nation, the group is currently assessing and will address the need for programming related to equity, diversity and inclusion among medical educators.

“This group was born out of my interest to explore gender equity in medical education on a national level. The idea was brought forth to the professional development committee, and in conversations with this group it became clear that there was much to explore with regard to all areas of equity and inclusion,” Christensen says.

“One major theme that I’ve learned over the past two years as this research has taken shape is that there are opportunities everywhere. If you see a need or have a question, connect with someone and investigate it,” she added.

Christensen will be celebrated by AAMC GWIMS during a virtual celebration Nov. 5. 


Featured image by Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand