The role of women in the Department of Surgery is growing. March is Women’s History Month, and the Department is celebrating the women who make history every day at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis through their contributions to patient care, research and education.
Mary E. Klingensmith, MD, the Mary Culver Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair for Education in the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine, has been named a Vice President of the American Board of Surgery (ABS). This follows Klingensmith’s years of leadership in the ABS and the Surgical Council on Resident Education (SCORE). As part of the 2019 merger of SCORE with the ABS, Klingensmith will continue to oversee SCORE as part of her duties as Vice President.
“SCORE is both a unified curriculum for resident and fellow training in surgery and also a robust web portal which delivers digital multimedia content and assessment,” Klingensmith explains. This program, formed in 2006, is designed to improve education and streamline the learning experience of residents and fellows.
Klingensmith is a general surgeon serving patients at the John Cochran VA Medical Center. In addition to her clinical practice, Klingensmith is an accomplished educator. Her initiatives—including leadership in the SCORE program—have led to improvements in the training of future generations of surgeons.
“My favorite part is knowing that I am impacting the lives of many more patients than I could ever hope to reach myself,” Klingensmith says. For Klingensmith, teaching is a way of extending her impact beyond any single operation. “By teaching students and residents, who in turn care for patients, I can multiply myself, essentially.”
The Academy of Educators is another project Klingensmith leads in medical education.
Medicine changes rapidly, due to advancements in technology and research, and the Academy of Educators aims to improve medical education to keep pace with these advancements. The Academy is a cohort of 42 faculty members striving “to build a community of educators, as well as train faculty in new, innovative and inspiring ways to teach in an academic medical setting.”
Since its formation in Sept. 2019, the Academy of Educators has already grown to offer three certificate programs for educators: the Teaching Scholars Program, Foundations in Teaching Skills Program and Learner Assessment for Program Leaders. “We are also sponsoring a Small Grants program for innovation in education scholarship,” Klingensmith says, “and recently launched a series of Faculty Workshops in support of the Gateway Curriculum.”
With all of these programs, initiatives and leadership roles, Klingensmith still values individual mentorship.
“I’ve tried to see all potential mentees for who they are, regardless of gender, because I believe that is how I was treated as a young student with an interest in surgery,” Klingensmith says. She recognizes that most of her mentors during medical school were men, and that many of her students now are men, but she also sees the value of mentorship among women in surgery.
“It wasn’t until I was a senior resident that I found my first real female mentor,” Klingensmith recalls. “She became both a mentor and a friend.” As a highly accomplished surgeon, Klingensmith is now able to pay that mentorship forward. “I have really enjoyed my opportunities to work with the young women who seek my mentorship,” she says.
Washington University in St. Louis was recently recognized by the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis as one of the top worklplaces for women in the St. Louis area. Their Employment Scorecard Initiative recognized Washington University as one of the large organizations in the area who demonstrate “structural efforts and outcomes to advance women through compensation, leadership, flexible work policies, and recruitment and retention initiatives.”
Klingensmith is an innovative leader in the development of medical education and training.
Klingensmith encourages women who want to pursue a career in surgery to follow their ambitions. “It is an incredibly satisfying career,” she says. “The ability to impact the lives of our fellow human beings in such a profound way is both a miracle and a privilege.”