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Association of Women in the Medical Sciences (APWIMS) at the UNC School of Medicine

The “Women in Medicine” group at the UNC School of Medicine started in about 1980 when several junior women faculty members approached the few women in senior roles to learn more about advancing their professional careers. Although this required extra time in addition to long clinical hours, the senior women perceived the value of imparting critical information to their junior colleagues and participated willingly.

Janet J. Fischer, MD, the first woman to achieve the rank of professor in the Department of Medicine, was one of these women. Although this initial effort was small, the meetings were interactive; they allowed women faculty members to discuss the challenges of negotiation, childcare, breastfeeding, and salary issues, among other topics. The early meetings did not have speakers; the women faculty themselves had questions to ask of each other, and the discussion was animated and productive.

By the early 2000s, leaders of the group included Kay Lund, Ph.D., and Etta Pisano, MD, who led until she left to become dean at the Medical University of South Carolina in 2010. During this time, the group’s name evolved to include women in all the medical sciences at UNC, including Public Health, Nursing, Dentistry, Pharmacy, and others. Hence, the name was changed to the Association of Professional Women in the Medical Sciences (APWIMS).

Also, during this era, the group successfully lobbied the Provost (Robert Shelton, Ph.D. in about 2006) to change both the university maternity leave policy and the practice of stopping the tenure clock for faculty with significant life changes (birth or adoption of a child, eldercare responsibilities, etc.).Those were major accomplishments. During that time, Etta Pisano, MD, was also chairing the University’s Committee on the Status of Women, which helped APWIMS enormously in that she regularly met with the Chancellor and Provost on behalf of the committee. This helped approve both of those changes by the Provost and the Faculty Counsel.

Another accomplishment was the establishment of the Med School Salary Equity Committee, which reviewed all faculty salaries and made recommendations to the chairs for equity adjustments. Dr. Pisano chaired it for about five years, and many men and women had their salaries adjusted for equity. Financial support for the APWIMS organization from the Dean’s Office began to be provided during that time.

In 2010, Amelia F. Drake, MD, was appointed to oversee the group from the Office of Faculty Affairs over the next decade. She served as president until others could be recruited, including sequentially Kris Patterson, MD, Susan Girdler, PhD, Wanda Nicholson, MD, and Christina Shenvi, MD, PhD. A small faculty development stipend was added to each leadership role so that the president and vice president could participate in conferences related to their work. During the COVID-19 era, meetings were done virtually, which allowed participation in much greater numbers, up to 160 participants in some meetings. A donation by an interested alumnus, Lianne DeSerres, MD, supported five years of speakers and more robust programming over this time.


Past Leaders of APWIMS

Janet J. Fischer, MD

Microbiology and Immunology

Kay Lund, PhD

Cell Biology and Physiology

Etta Pisano, MD
Amelia F. Drake, MD

Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery

Kris Patterson, MD

Infectious Disease

Susan Girdler, PhD


Wanda Nicholson, MD

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Christina Shenvi, MD, PhD

Emergency Medicine