The Vanderbilt University School of Medicine class of 1945 had no women; the class of 1959 had only one. Over the years, there was a steady increase in the number of women. By 1977, there were nine; by 1981, 20. Each year the gap has slowly closed in the numbers of women and men.
This year, for the first time in the history of the School of Medicine, there are more women than men, and the increase is substantial ó 58 percent of the 104-member class, or 60, are women.
"As we are evaluating, accepting and recruiting our prospective students, we do it based on each applicant’s unique qualifications," said Dr. Steven Gabbe, dean of the VUSM. "We look for the best people, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. We look for people who are going to make a difference in medicine, who will contribute as leaders and scholars. When the numbers came together, we were surprised to see how many women were coming here." He added that when prospective female students interview at Vanderbilt, they are encouraged to see women holding high administrative and faculty positions.
Other medical schools have also seen a steady increase in women, although the gap isn’t quite as large. The medical school class of 2007 at Johns Hopkins University has 57 men and 63 women. The first-year medical school class at Duke University has 51 women and 49 men.
The Vanderbilt class and many of their parents were welcomed by VUSM faculty and staff at orientation on Monday. This year, the first day of orientation included an interactive presentation by Dr. Gerald B. Hickson, on "Defining Professionalism óA Life Long Challenge." The day concluded with a pool party at the home of Gabbe and his wife, Dr. Patricia Temple.
Donna Vleugels, 22, is attending VUSM on a Canby Robinson scholarship. She came to orientation a little more familiar with the school than most. Her sister, Ruth Ann, also a Canby Robinson scholar, is a fourth year medical student.
The sisters, two of six children, both attended the University of Virginia as undergraduates, but the progression to Vanderbilt was not intentional.
"It came down to where we both felt most comfortable and most welcomed, and that was Vanderbilt," Vleugels said. "The students are great. The faculty care about the students. It’s a wonderful place."
Ruth Ann Vleugels took photographs of her younger sister receiving her white coat at Monday’s White Coat Ceremony. The sisters’ mother, Dr. Phyllis Visocin, a Columbus, Ohio ophthalmologist, couldn’t attend the ceremony, and asked for photographs.
The class was greeted by Gabbe and Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice-chancellor for Health Affairs. Jacobson told the class that their average MCAT score is 10.8, making the class among the brightest in the country. The class’s average GPA is 3.78.
"We heal. We teach. We discover," Jacobson told the class. "The education you will receive here, that will prepare you for a career in medicine, will be second to none. And if past is prologue, every single one of you will write M.D. after your name in four years."
The class of 2007 comes from 32 states with 16 from Tennessee. Seven are from Florida and North Carolina. They represent 56 colleges and universities with 14 coming from Vanderbilt and 19 from Ivy League schools. There were 35 applications for every student’s spot.
Betsy Hagmann, 28, comes to VUSM with a lengthy resume. The Yale University graduate played both varsity lacrosse and field hockey, and was a White House intern in 1992 in the Media Affairs Department, working with Specialty Press. She worked in the department during the launch of MSNBC, and helped line up interviews with President Bill Clinton. She is also an accomplished triathlete, spending four years after college training and competing in Olympic international triathlon events. She is engaged to marry Christoph O’Donnell, a professional triathlete, next September.
The Vleugels won’t be the only siblings at VUSM. Mayshan and Mahan Ghiassi both attended Vanderbilt University and are now first-year students at VUSM. The brothers grew up in Nashville, graduating from Martin Luther King Magnet School. Mahan, who is a newlywed, said he and his brother have both done research for VUSM faculty, Mahan for Dr. William Grady, and Mayshan for Dr. Hal Moses.
"We love Vanderbilt. The faculty allow to get the students involved. Even if they are very high up in their field, they are willing to let students have hands-on experience. That’s very important to us."
The first Vanderbilt University School of Medicine diplomas were given to 61 men in 1875. The first women to graduate from VUSM were Thelma Byrd Bowie and Louise Rector Allen in 1929.
A letter is included in Allen’s file at Eskind Biomedical Library’s Historical Collections from Dr. G. Canby Robinson, who was dean of VUSM. The letter was written to Vanderbilt faculty member Dr. E. E. Reinke, as a follow up to a letter requesting Reinke’s opinion of Allen.
"I have recommended to Chancellor Kirkland that women be admitted to the School of Medicine on the same basis as men. So I presume that the fact that Miss Allen is a woman will not be detrimental to her in this regard."
In 1936, Ethel Walker became the first woman to receive the Founder’s Medal from the School of Medicine.
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