February 06, 2023

UMMS celebrates Karin Muraszko’s ‘near-mythical status’ at Feb. 3 women’s event

An award presentation capped a two-hour event that included a keynote address and a panel of faculty and a medical student discussing their often-turbulent journey as women in academic medicine

Karin Muraszko, M.D.

Karin Muraszko, M.D., with the inaugural Women in Academic Medicine Impact Award gleaming in the foreground, watches one of several video tributes to her during the Feb. 3 Women in Academic Medicine event in the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Auditorium.

On Feb. 3, colleagues, former students and trainees, and friends gathered to honor Karin Muraszko, M.D., for her groundbreaking achievements as a woman leader in medicine. Many did so in the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Auditorium, site of the inaugural Women in Academic Medicine event, hosted by the Medical School. Others chimed in from far away.

In pre-recorded remarks, CNN chief medical correspondent and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, M.D., said: “She has impacted so many of our lives in countless ways; someone who has deservedly taken on near-mythical status at Michigan, in the United States, and all over the world, and someone who has saved and improved countless lives,” said, Gupta a U-M alumnus for undergraduate, medical school and neurosurgery residency who trained under Muraszko. “She is someone I take immense pride in calling a mentor, a champion for change and, most importantly, a friend.” 

Gupta’s message kicked off a well-deserved tribute to Muraszko, who enjoyed a distinguished 13-year tenure as the first woman to lead a neurosurgery department in the United States. Gupta was the first of many well-wishers to salute Muraszko’s 40-plus year career as a leader in the field of neurosurgery, and to celebrate her as the inaugural recipient of the Women in Academic Medicine Impact Award.

The award presentation capped a two-hour event that also included a keynote address by former faculty member Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., and a panel of faculty members and a medical student discussing their often-turbulent journey as women in academic medicine. The archived livestream can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF_oqmug0HE.

U-M Executive Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer Debra F. Weinstein, M.D., noted that the U-M event coincided with National Women Physicians Day and provided the perfect springboard to “invigorate ongoing work to accelerate the success and advancement of women in medicine.” As part of the festivities, Weinstein surprised the day’s honoree by announcing that the annual award would be renamed the Karin Muraszko Women in Academic Medicine Impact Award.

”When I became chair of Neurosurgery here, (former UMMS deans) Allen Lichter and Jim Woolliscroft did more than just take a chance on me; they also gave me the tools to succeed. It is a hallmark of Michigan that they try to create a path for you to be able to succeed,” Muraszko said. “As we celebrate women, we should celebrate each of us as individuals and human beings who sometimes are capable of so much more than we thought possible.”

A video of colleagues talking about Muraszko and the impact she has had on them and Michigan Medicine, can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqQn-EhAR3o.

In her remarks, Muraszko said that, as an institution, Michigan is always trying to find its way. Four panelists echoed the sentiment that the U-M is in a unique position to help advance women in academic medicine, and to help them overcome challenges and excel.

“Bias used to be very explicit,” said Huda Akil, Ph.D., the Gardner C. Quarton Distinguished University Professor of Neurosciences in the Department of Psychiatry. “What needs to change needs to change rapidly and systemically; not because women are having a hard time, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Michelle S. Caird, M.D., the Helen L. Gehring Professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, noted that only 6 percent of orthopedic surgeons are women, and 15-16 percent of residents are female. She said her department is making strides in recruitment and hiring, but perception remains an obstacle.

“There is a change, and I celebrate that, but we are still near the bottom,” Caird said. “We have so many opportunities. Women feel, even with a woman as a chair, much more cautious and afraid of what the institution might do to them, or how it might affect them and their families.”

Susan J. Woolford, M.D., MPH, an associate professor of pediatrics in the Medical School and associate professor of health behavior and health education in the U-M School of Public Health, said that one of the problems is representation.

“I have seen signs for improvement over the past few years, but if we want to change representation, we have to change what we reward,” she said. “It is like swimming against the tide. We are at a moment when we have an opportunity to make a huge difference.”

Courtney Burns, a third-year medical student at Michigan, recalled a story from the operating room in which the attending surgeon made a disparaging sexual remark about her appearance. She said a colleague comforted her and stated that was not appropriate.

“I talked to my mentors and found it wasn’t just me, or a me problem,” Burns said. “Don’t be afraid to find your safe people that you can discuss things with. There is so much power in speaking your experiences, and I encourage you do that.”

Jagsi, a member of the U-M Medical School faculty for 16 years who recently became a professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Emory University, during her talk often referred to “we” and “our” as she is still an adjunct professor at the U-M and “you will never get rid of me.”

In her talk, “Research, Advocacy, and Action for Faculty Equity in Academic Medicine: UMMS’s Ongoing Journey,” she highlighted several studies that have shined a light on bias toward women in academic medicine. This includes the “Karin Muraszko Study,” which looked at sex, role models, and specialty choices among graduates of U.S. medical schools in 2006-08.

“The idea was looking at the powerful influence of role models like her,” Jagsi explained. “One of the most important findings of the study is when we looked at what students were looking for in programs, in residencies and departments, it was actually the overall inclusion of women. You want to go to a place where you look like you actually belong.”

A video of senior leadership, faculty, and students sharing their thoughts about why Michigan Medicine is committed to advancing opportunities for women in all areas of health care, can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFQpVuBYAOA.