A Visionary Sponsor and Stalwart Supporter of Women’s Leadership
To honor the life and passing of D. Walter Cohen, DDS, the Founding Editor of Compendium of Continuing Education in Dentistry, the journal is featuring a series of tributes from various leading healthcare organizations with which he had a significant relationship. This installment is from Drexel University.
D. Walter Cohen, DDS, the founder of Drexel University College of Medicine's Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM®) program for women in academic medicine, dentistry, public health, and pharmacy, epitomized what it means to be a sponsor. He sponsored the development of ELAM and continued to support it right up until his passing last year. Sponsorship is a key path to attaining gender equity and is recognized as a critical piece in the puzzle of how to help advance women's careers. Dr. Cohen saw the importance of this early on, and the more than 1,000 graduates of the ELAM program, their institutions, and their communities are the beneficiaries of his remarkable vision.
When Dr. Cohen founded ELAM in 1995, he recognized that transforming the face of academic medicine would require significant culture change and persistent efforts to sustain the success of women leaders. The ELAM program that he created preserves Drexel University College of Medicine's strong heritage of advancing women in medicine. Drexel's College of Medicine is the successor to the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, the first medical school in the world for women, which was founded as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850. Hannah Longshore received her medical degree from the Female Medical College in 1851 and became Philadelphia's first woman physician in 1853. A member of the first graduating class, Ann Preston, later became Dean of Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, the first woman dean of a medical school anywhere. Anandibai Joshi graduated from Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886 at age 19, becoming the first Indian female physician, and Eliza Grier graduated from there in 1897 and a year later became the first African American woman admitted to practice medicine in Georgia.
Building on this legacy, in 1995 Dr. Cohen and ELAM's co-founders Page Morahan, PhD, and Patricia Cormier, EdD, conducted a needs assessment of medical school deans, and out of that assessment ELAM was established with its first class of 25 Fellows from schools of medicine. In 1996, the first two ELAM Fellows from dental schools were accepted and the American Association of Dental Schools endorsed ELAM. It was due to Dr. Cohen's advocacy of ELAM that Patricia Kind and her mother, Hedwig van Ameringen, provided a partial endowment for the program in its third year. His early leadership and strong continued support made ELAM the success that it is today.
Dr. Cohen was a leader who made a concrete, measurable impact on the number of women in academic leadership positions. ELAM alumnae, or "ELUMs" as Dr. Cohen coined them, are now in high-level leadership positions at 263 institutions around the country and the world. Seventy-three Fellows from dental schools have graduated from ELAM. Six of these women are now deans of US dental schools, and ELUM Karen P. West, DMD, MPH, is the new president and CEO of the American Dental Education Association. In addition, 14 of the 27 women deans at medical schools and four of the 21 women deans at public health schools are ELUMs. At our 2018 graduation, Dr. Cohen said that ELAM was his proudest achievement.
Dr. Cohen was also one of the founders of the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership at Drexel University College of Medicine. In his wife's memory, he helped to endow the Betty Cohen Chair in Women's Health at the medical college. This was the first endowed chair in women's health in the world.
Throughout his years as president of the Medical College of Pennsylvania, then chancellor of Allegheny University of the Health Sciences, Dr. Cohen was an advisor, faculty member, fund-raiser, and champion. He shared the depth and range of his leadership experiences with our ELAM Fellows as a panelist on our school of medicine case study and by teaching sessions on fundraising, development, and institutional advancement.
Dr. Cohen's office was right down the hall from mine, and he was there just two days before he passed away. I will miss his remarkable memory, the elegant afternoon teas we shared at the Rittenhouse Hotel as we talked about advancing women's leadership, and his generosity. His loss is large, but his legacy is larger. We're grateful for his stalwart commitment to women's leadership, which helped to change the landscape of institutions around the world.
- Nancy D. Spector, MD
Executive Director, Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine