Jessie Cheung, Contributing Photographer
The Yale Medicine Board has elected a new female chair and has nominated and ratified four other female faculty members.
Nita Ahuja, the current chair of the surgery department at the Yale School of Medicine and an assistant director at the Yale Cancer Center, was elected as the new chair of the board in October. The four other women appointed to the board were Michele Johnson, Marie Robert, Marietta Vazquez and Merceditas Villanueva. The appointment of these five new members increased the gender and racial equity of the 27-member board.
“A board governing practice should have racial and gender composition matching the members of the clinical practice they represent,” Margaret Bia — professor emerita of medicine and a member of the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine, or SWIM — wrote in an email News. SWIM aims to address issues related to gender equality at the Yale School of Medicine.
According to Bia, the Yale Medicine Board, which represents Yale Medicine, has had a problem with diversity in the past. She mentioned that Paula Kavathas — professor of laboratory medicine, immunobiology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology — noticed this issue a few years ago while she was serving on the board and resolved to fix it.
As stated by Kavathas, the board is composed of 18 clinical chiefs, which were almost exclusively men, and nine ad hoc chairs. When she was a member of the board, only three of the clinical chiefs and one of the ad hoc chairs were female.
“At the time, the Yale Medicine group was about 40 percent female,” Kavathas said. “But when I looked at the [board] structure, they were more than 90 percent male.”
In an effort to change the board’s composition, Kavathas emailed all the women faculty in the clinical departments to ask them if they would like to serve on the board as an ad hoc member. She then recommended the candidates to Paul Taheri, the chief executive officer of Yale Medicine, and Roberta Hines, the head of the nominating committee for the board. The following year, nearly 40 percent of the board was female.
According to Gary Desir, previous chair of the Yale Medicine Board, this year, the board has taken new initiative to increase its diversity by focusing on additional outreach.
“The idea was to reach out more broadly than before and include SWIM, which is the Committee on the Status of Women in Medicine, and MORE, which is the Minority Organization for Retention and Expansion,” Desir said.
As per the initiative, the Yale Medicine Board reached out to the head of SWIM, Nina Stachenfeld, and asked her to suggest two candidates to be considered for the board, according to Bia. This led to the changes and additions to board leadership — the four new faculty members and new board chair.
Ahuja, the board’s new chair, has served as the first female chair of surgery at Yale since February 2018, as well as