The Power of Connection

Residents stretch during a Women in Medicine-sponsored yoga class


In 2010, Cybele Renault, MD, a clinical associate professor of infectious diseases, sat down at her desk to draft a grant proposal. The resulting four-page document read like a manifesto, with an outline for a new seminar series tailored exclusively to women in medicine along with space devoted to personal reflection: She recounted, among other memories, a sinking moment early in her career when she realized that, out of three trainees performing the same work under the same mentor at the same county hospital, only the male trainee was being paid.

The series, Renault imagined, would combat experiences like hers, and provide space for students, residents, and fellows to connect and share wisdom with each other and learn critical skills about how to navigate the academic landscape, identify bias, challenge sexism, and not burn out along the way.

She submitted the grant and awaited an official response. Months later, she heard the news: Her proposal had been denied. She applied again but received the same result.

Undaunted, Renault scheduled a meeting with Larry Katznelson, MD, professor of endocrinology and neurosurgery and associate dean for graduate medical education, to discuss her ideas. “I shared my grant proposal and told him ‘I want to do this!’” Her enthusiasm was met with instantaneous support: “He said, ‘I’ll secure funding from Graduate Medical Education. Tell me what you need.’ He gave me free rein—there was trust and recognition of my passion and the need for something like this at our institution.”

Renault now had funding, a name (Women in Medicine, or WIM) and a sense of purpose. She just needed to form a community. She reached out to all the residency program directors at Stanford and asked them to appoint a female resident to join the fledgling group’s leadership council. “I wanted to establish a core council of representatives so we could figure out the next steps—what topics to focus on, which issues we should address, how we should prioritize time and funds.”

From left: Becca Tisdale, MD, Cybele Renault, MD, and Brooke Gabster, MD

Hearing the Call

Partway through her four-year neurology residency, Rebecca Miller-Kuhlmann, MD, clinical assistant professor of neurology and neurological sciences, hit “pause” to have a baby. She spent her maternity leave adjusting to the rhythms and changes that come with a new arrival, but she also found time to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, which had been recommended by a friend. “I found the book to be really fascinating and eye opening,” she explains, “and it put a different lens on some of my own experiences.” When she returned to campus and heard about Renault’s newly formed WIM program, she jumped at the chance to participate: “I wanted to be involved immediately.” She reached out and became one of the first to join the new group.

The inaugural meeting took place on campus. Renault had gathered roughly 20 female residents from different specialties in a conference room to discuss the program and its future. Each of them brought different perspectives and a long list of questions. Miller-Kulhmann set the scene: “Cybele got up and just started sharing her reasons for wanting to found this group and the power of community among women, and she discussed the challenges that were unique to women. The tone of the room shifted, everyone began talking and sharing the experiences they’ve had—all of the experiences: the good, the bad, the ugly—it was a powerful meeting.”

We’ve had some events where it’s just the women from the group sitting outside on picnic blankets, eating pizza together and figuring out the challenges of the world.

The group got to work. They organized skills-based trainings on contract negotiation tactics and workshops on implicit bias. They invited influential speakers like Mary Hawn, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery, and groups like the Clayman Institute for Gender Research to share their perspectives. They set up panels of women in leadership roles and scheduled off-campus happy hours. They connected mentors to mentees. They sponsored wellness events and partnered with like-minded groups. They tackled tricky topics: social justice, fertility and maternity concerns, microaggressions, wage gaps. And they took notes along the way, eventually homing in on a set of best practices: host four to six events per year in crowd-pleasing venues, listen to suggestions, and always make space for conversation and authentic connection.

This last piece is what makes WIM so vital, Miller-Kuhlmann says, and it’s the low-octane gatherings that often linger most in her mind. “We’ve had some events where it’s just the women from the group sitting outside on picnic blankets, eating pizza together and figuring out the challenges of the world,” reflects Miller-Kulhmann. “Pizza and meaningful conversation—the great uniters.”

Today’s WIM group is entirely resident-led, with Renault and Miller-Kulhmann acting as co-faculty advisors. It’s just what Renault intended when she submitted her proposal almost a decade ago.

“That was always the goal. I’m so inspired by the residents’ momentum and their willingness to share their experiences,” she says. “They’ve designed a program that supports them and improves the broader Stanford community. They’re leaving a legacy—they want things to be better for the women who come after them.”

WIM Group Leadership Council

Katrina Houpis
Mary Ellen Irene Koran
Julia Chandler
Audrey Rose Verde
Mita Hoppenfeld
Julia Anne Armendariz
Anne Kuwabara
Katherine Werbaneth
Anna Janas
Hayley Elizabeth Miller
Adela Wu
Jessica K. Buesing
Lauren Michelle Shapiro
Danielle Helena Rochlin
Jasmyn Kaur Johal