Friday, October 5, 2012

New neurology chief shares lessons

INSPIRING WOMEN: From left, Rigotti, Cudkowicz, Slavin and Anne Klibanski, MD, director of the Center for Faculty Development

When Anne Young, MD, PHD, now immediate past chief of Neurology, drew a cartoon in 1994 depicting resident Merit Cudkowicz, MD, bringing treatment from bench to bedside, she had no idea her gift would become a treasured piece of artwork for the department’s future chief. (To see the cartoon, visit

Cudkowicz shared that cartoon – along with other anecdotes and advice – during her keynote lecture, “From Chemical Engineering to Clinical Department Chair: Lessons Learned as a Woman in Academic Medicine,” at the 15th Annual Women in Medicine Month Celebration Sept. 20. The Center for Faculty Development’s Office for Women’s Careers (OWC) and Human Resources sponsor the event each year.

Nancy Rigotti, MD, director of the OWC, welcomed more than 80 attendees to the luncheon. Rigotti gave special acknowledgement to the women honored in an OWC tribute book and to Tessa Hedley-Whyte, MD, former director of MGH Neuropathology, for her inclusion in the Archives of Women in Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS), which aims to collect, preserve and share the professional and personal works of women leaders at HMS. She also recognized Rhonda Bentley-Lewis, MD, of the Diabetes Unit, the first African American chair of the Joint Commission on the Status of Women at HMS, and Dennis Brown, MD, director of the Office for Research Career Development, who received the 2012 HMS Leadership Award for the Advancement of Women Faculty.

BENCH TO BEDSIDE: The cartoon Young drew for Cudkowicz.

Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president, shared some statistics about the academic promotions of MGH women faculty this year – including that 39 were promoted to assistant professor, 9 to associate professor and 6 to full professor. Introducing Cudkowicz, he noted: “I was delighted when Merit accepted the position of chief of Neurology. Her career here has been meteoric.”

Slavin described her leadership roles in several research programs, including the MGH Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) clinic, the Neurological Clinical Research Institute and the Northeast ALS Consortium. Slavin also noted that Cudkowicz is the highest-funded investigator at the MGH.

After graduating from MIT and HMS, Cudkowicz came to the MGH for her residency – all thanks to an encouraging phone call from an MGH residency director. “I really wanted to be here, but thought I couldn’t get in,” she said. “I think this is an example, early in my career, of when I undersold myself. But it’s so important to self-advocate.”

Eventually she realized her passion for working with patients, and Young offered her the job of creating MGH’s first clinical research program in neurology. Over 15 years, under Cudkowicz’s leadership, the program flourished. At one point, Cudkowicz recalled cautiously asking Young for a modest raise. She was puzzled when Young jumped up and hugged her. Young explained her excitement: Cudkowciz was the first female in the department to ask for a raise.

Another lesson: the importance of philanthropy. Cudkowicz described the grants that enabled her research and gave special kudos to the Claflin Award, sponsored in part by the OWC, which helped support her career while raising two children.

“The annual event was a great success,” says Donna Lawton, executive director of the Center for Faculty Development. “An overwhelming majority of the audience said this talk will have an impact on their professional lives.”

Read more articles from the 10/5/12 Hotline issue.


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