Below is an interview transcript (in celebration of Women’s History Month) featuring School of Medicine Dean, Allison Brashear, M.D., MBA via the Women in Medicine and Health Sciences (WIMHS) program.
Women in Medicine and Health Sciences (WIMHS) would like to extend a warm welcome to the UC Davis School of Medicine. Can you tell us a little about the unique opportunities that brought you here to the UCD Health?
The combined powerhouse strengths of UC Davis in research, education and clinical care were what sparked my interest in UC Davis. I was impressed with the cross-campus collaboration, the plans for Aggie Square, and the interest in building the clinical and basic science research. UC Davis has a strong reputation in cancer, neuroscience and new treatments in rare disease. I also learned about UCD commitment to an inclusive environment for learners and faculty.
Combined all these things made a compelling argument that UC Davis and I were a good match!
As you approach the end of your first six months, what has surprised you most about UC Davis Health?
I knew that UC Davis was a leader in many areas of research but learning that there are 40 plus stem cell clinical trials was a terrific surprise. Every day I learn about the international reputation of our investigators in so many fields. I want to begin to share these tremendous strengths with our alumni, friends and the national audience and begin to tell the UC Davis story more broadly. My goal is to make UC Davis a nationally recognized top ten school of medicine and health system.
You have been described as a “change agent” for the lasting impact you had on the neurology department at Wake Forest (boosted the number of faculty from 17 to nearly 60, increased research grant funding by tens of millions of dollars, appointed women to senior leadership positions and expanded access for neurology patients). What are the opportunities for change you envision for UC Davis Health?
UC Davis is in an ideal position to leverage all of our many strengths to improve health and wellness of our community and region. We should have clinical trials for every patient who wants to participate. Leveraging our new knowledge creation and innovation, such as the PET Explorer, and getting those services to our patients sooner is so important. I believe we should be the first stop for patients with complex problems. With our knowledge in research and robust clinical care, we can make a real difference in the lives of our patients. Lastly, UC Davis has a responsibility to address health care inequities. One of the best ways we can do this is to train and teach the next generation of physicians to lead the future of medicine and have the skills to address these complex issues on the horizon. This is probably the single best thing we can do to improve health of our community and state.
You have established an impressive program of research focused on rare neurologic disorders such as a unique genetic form of dystonia Parkinsonism known as Rapid-Onset Dystonia- Parkinsonism. Can you tell us a little about your perspective on the role of research in academic medicine?
Most new discoveries come from the halls and laboratories of our nation’s academic medical centers. I believe that by partnering physicians with the world’s experts we can more rapidly advance medical discoveries and treatments. On a personal level, my partnership with the world’s experts in ATP1A3 and genetic forms of dystonia has accomplished more together in this rare disease than we ever would have done alone. Academic health systems are a rich foundation on which to develop such productive collaborations.
Although women make up over 40% of the faculty at UC Davis Health, they continue to be under-represented at the rank of full professor and leadership positions. What are challenges women faces in traditionally male-dominated leadership position? What can be done to improve retention and career advancement for early career female faculty in academic medicine?
Women in academic medicine need mentorship and sponsorship. Women get a lot of mentoring, but little is said of sponsorship. The role of sponsorship in advancing women doesn’t get enough attention. Generally, the sponsor is senior and may often be male. This is important in making sure women advance to senior roles in our institutions, and once they are in those roles that they are robustly supported and given the tools to thrive. I am personally committed to making sure our faculty and students reflect the diverse world we live in. This is so important for our learners and our patients. We do this by making sure we give everyone the opportunities to achieve their highest potential.
That leads into my final question for you… what advice do you have for maintaining a healthy perspective on work-life integration?
Have a great life partner, take time for family and friends and of course, I must put a plug in for my dogs! Sometimes we must slow down the pace of our daily lives. Change fatigue can burn all of us out and there is a lot of change, both at UC Davis and in the medical community. We have to do more to improve our systems so that everyone has the ability to have a work life balance that truly “works” for them.