Betsy Nabel

Betsy Nabel

Then a mid-career physician-scientist in the catheterization lab at the University of Michigan—and the only woman on the team—BWHC President Betsy Nabel, MD, was well-aware some of her colleagues felt women did not belong in science and medicine.

Even so, she was still astounded when a male faculty member at the university confronted her one day to insist he take her place as principal investigator (PI) in a high-profile study she was leading.

“He came into my office, shut the door and said, ‘Betsy, you’re no longer the PI for the trial. I’m going to be the PI,’” said Nabel, telling the story during a keynote at the Women in Medicine and Science Symposium in Bornstein Amphitheater on Sept. 26. “He was trying to intimidate and bully me, thinking that I would concede.”

His attempt to undermine her backfired. Nabel pushed back, alerting her department chair—with whom she had worked to develop a professional rapport—about the colleague’s inappropriate behavior. Within a year, the faculty member left the university. 

“I wasn’t going to give in. I learned a long time ago that you’ve got to stand up for yourself,” Nabel said. The story reflected more than the sexism women in medicine and science faced as recently as 20 years ago; it also illustrated the importance of building and maintaining professional networks, something Nabel noted is especially vital for women in the field.

The keynote, “Reflections on a Life in Biomedicine: Making Change,” kicked off an afternoon of presentations in Bornstein by BWH physicians and scientists, followed by a poster session and reception in the 15 Francis St. rotunda. Celebrating its fifth year, the symposium was co-sponsored by the BWH Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (CFDD), the Brigham Research Institute, the Center for Clinical Investigation and the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology.

“This event really aims to promote the accomplishments of women in many different domains of medicine and science,” said Kathryn Rexrode, MD, MPH, director of the Office for Women’s Careers in CFDD.

Elena Aikawa, MD, PhD, the event founder and co-chair, also noted the symposium provides an opportunity for clinicians and researchers from various disciplines—whose paths may not ordinarily cross—to learn about their colleagues’ work.

“It fosters cross-departmental collaborations and allows scientists and physicians to share their innovative discoveries with the entire Brigham community,” Aikawa said.

The featured presenters were Marta Fay, PhD, of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy; Nadine Palermo, DO, of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension; Maria Carmela Speranza, PhD, of Neurosurgery; and Viviany Taqueti, MD, MPH, of Cardiovascular Medicine.

Featured poster presenters were Agnieszka Bronisz, PhD, of Neurosurgery; Mandovi Chatterjee, PhD, of Genetics; Helen Christou, MD, of Pediatric Newborn Medicine; Kathryn Hall, PhD, MPH, of Preventive Medicine; Nina Paynter, PhD, of Preventive Medicine; and Jing Yan, PhD, of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy.