After Elizabeth Blackwell emigrated to the United States from England in 1832, she did something considered unthinkable for women at the time: She entered medical school. Graduating first in her 1849 class at Geneva Medical School in upstate New York, Dr. Blackwell went on to blast through countless hurdles, founding a medical school for women in 1868 that was absorbed by what is now Weill Cornell Medicine and establishing a hospital that became today’s NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.
One year after the Blackwell Society was created at Weill Cornell Medicine to connect and support women faculty, the legacy and pioneering spirit of Dr. Blackwell and her sister, Dr. Emily Blackwell, remain indelible. Adding to a host of Blackwell Society efforts over the last 12 months promoting women, the upcoming 4th annual Weill Cornell Medicine Diversity Week will spotlight pivotal women leaders.
“Dr. Blackwell understood that she sometimes needed to create her own structures,” said Dr. Geraldine McGinty, the E. Darracott Vaughan, Jr., M.D. Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at Weill Cornell Medicine, who has been integral to the Blackwell Society’s efforts. “Women have understood it’s critically important for us to be in leadership because then we get to be where the decisions are made and shift prejudices.”
Launched on International Women’s Day 2021, the Blackwell Society has hosted about a dozen events for Weill Cornell Medicine faculty members – some drawing hundreds of attendees – on issues important to women’s professional development, including salary equity and transparency, leadership opportunities and well-being.
“We’re addressing a clear need, and the society has been a really wonderful and necessary outlet,” said Dr. Judy Tung, associate dean for faculty development at Weill Cornell Medicine, who spearheaded its formation. “The topics we’re featuring speak to the struggles of women and we offer a venue that allows women to come together to discuss them safely and more deeply.”
This year’s Diversity Week is spotlighting diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the system, with content and programming contributions from each Weill Cornell Medicine department. Highlights have included an appearance by New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett who reflected on racial and ethnic disparities evident during the COVID-19 pandemic; and an upcoming keynote speech by Dr. Carol Bradford, dean of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, on “Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Advance Your Career without Limits.”
Much has transpired at Weill Cornell Medicine to uplift women in the last several years, Dr. Tung noted, including the appointment of several women as department chairs and into other executive leadership positions, including Dr. McGinty.
“The downstream effects of those individuals, for example in the creation of mentorship structures and other opportunities, has been widespread and palpable,” Dr. Tung said. “To me, this year’s Diversity Week feels very much like a celebration of that.”
With an eye toward the Blackwell Society’s growth, Dr. Tung recently invited a dozen new members to join its steering committee. She’s aiming to broaden membership solely from faculty members to include staff, students, trainees and Weill Cornell Medicine’s affiliate organizations.
“I’m very excited about the new directions the Blackwell Society is heading,” Dr. Tung said. “When we established it, we wanted to be entirely inclusive with no hurdles to membership and an agenda that’s fluid and evolving, and we remain committed to those core principles.”