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School of Medicine discoveries

January 3, 2018

Alumna and faculty member Betsy Ripley named fellow in Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine

Betsy Ripley, M'86, H'92, interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the medical school, has been named a 2017-18 fellow in the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine.

Betsy Ripley, M’86, H’92, interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the medical school, has been named a 2017-18 fellow in the Executive Leadership Program for Women in Academic Medicine.

The keys to becoming a successful leader, says Betsy Ripley, M’86, H’92, MS’04 (BIOS), begin with being open to the opportunities that come your way while taking time to do your current job well.

“By being a leader and doing your job well on a daily basis, you’re not just shooting for the next job. You’re contributing along the way,” Ripley says. “Be active and participate. People will remember that and you’ll be asked to do the next thing. It all builds on itself.”

Saying “yes” has led Ripley down a path to her current role as interim senior associate dean for faculty affairs for the VCU School of Medicine and, more recently, as a 2017-18 fellow with the prestigious Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine. ELAM is a year-long part-time fellowship for women faculty in schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and public health.

A core program of the Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, ELAM is dedicated to developing the professional and personal skills required to lead and manage in today’s complex health environment, with special attention to the unique challenges facing women in leadership positions.

“Applicants have to be incredibly accomplished to earn their position and Dr. Ripley was accepted the first time she applied,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D., who also serves as Ripley’s ELAM sponsor. “This national recognition comes as no surprise to those of us who see Betsy’s outstanding work with faculty on a daily basis. I couldn’t be more proud to see her represent our medical school as part of ELAM.”

More than 1,000 ELAM alumnae hold leadership positions in institutions around the world. The VCU School of Medicine has sponsored 12 previous ELAM fellows.

“At VCU, we have a lot of good strong women leaders — Marsha Rappley, Deborah Davis, Deborah Zimmermann, Melinda Hancock, to name a few,” Ripley says. “Phenomenal women who speak to how open VCU is to developing and growing our women.”

As part of ELAM, fellows participate in three week-long on-site training sessions in September, January and April, in addition to working on assignments and reading throughout the year, participating in the leadership online curriculum and communicating regularly with ELAM colleagues.

Each fellow works on an Institutional Action Project that aligns with her experiences and meets an organizational goal or need at her home university. Ripley chose a cause near and dear to her heart: education and training for faculty members.

“In medical school, we don’t go to class to become a faculty member,” she says. “You come up through the ranks and — poof! — you’re a faculty member.”

In an effort to ensure that faculty development opportunities at the medical school better meet faculty’s needs, Ripley is cataloging each development opportunity offered through the school, assigning it to a particular competency (general knowledge, leadership, scholarship or teaching and service) and determining where more resources are needed.

“We offer a lot of development opportunities but what do our faculty truly need to grow and become successful?” Ripley asks. “Along the way, what they need to know may change. What resources are needed for that growth?”

Ripley will present her project at ELAM’s on-site meeting in April not only to this year’s 54-member ELAM class, but to a host of deans, including Buckley, who will attend the final session. Networking and mentoring opportunities among national leaders is a key component of ELAM’s ultimate goal to expand the national pool of qualified women candidates for leadership in academic medicine, dentistry and public health.

She attributes her leadership success to a multitude of mentors at the medical school: Domenic Sica, M.D., Berry Fowler, M.D., John Nestler, M.D., and Dick Wenzel, M.D., all in the Department of Internal Medicine, as well as retired senior associate dean of faculty affairs P.J. Coney, M.D., and, now, Dean of Medicine Buckley.

“I’m blessed to be at an institution that’s recognized the leadership skills within me,” says Ripley, who earned her medical degree at VCU and remained on the MCV Campus to complete residency training. “I’m lucky many people have helped me when I needed it and encouraged me along the way.”

Ripley remembers a “say yes” moment when early in her career, she applied for a National Institutes of Health K Award at the encouragement of Wenzel and Fowler. She received the award and it led her to sit on a panel of VCU’s Institutional Review Board, of which she later became senior chair. It sparked an interest in research ethics that led to a master’s degree from the Department of Biostatistics, an AMA ethics fellowship, and the role as clinical research compliance officer for the university.

Ultimately, her clinical and research experience, combined with her dual role as a mother to three sons, led her to faculty affairs, first in the Department of Internal Medicine and later in the School of Medicine.

“I can speak to the variety of challenges faculty members might face, both in the workplace and at home,” Ripley says.

Sometimes, it only takes that one voice telling — and showing — others it’s possible that can make all the difference. It was in her medical school interview on the MCV Campus with a female faculty member when Ripley heard the words that molded how she approached medicine, a career and family.

“She said ‘you can do it all — if you want to,'” Ripley says. “I had that one woman who told me I could.”

Now she serves as that one voice of encouragement for faculty members across the School of Medicine, taking her place as a role model and mentor for countless others.

By Polly Roberts

Virginia Commonwealth University
VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine
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