Terra Sigillata

Allies: Duke’s Henry Friedman, MD

In preparing for the ScienceOnline’09 session on Gender in Science – Online and Offline, one planned discussion point will be how to enlist allies representing the dominant power structure to enhance equality and diversity in the STEM disciplines. No one ally can do it all but a combination of like-minded people can make a huge difference.

Here is a terrific example of an ally, written by superb higher ed reporter, Eric Ferreri, of the Raleigh (NC) News & Observer, on Dr Henry Friedman and CAPE, the Collegiate Athletic Pre-Medical Experience:

Georgia Beasley was practicing her jump shot and needed someone to rebound for her. Ten-year-old Sara Friedman was waiting for a ride after a Duke basketball camp session.

For Beasley — a Duke basketball star who then went by her maiden name, Schweitzer — this chance moment nine years ago proved momentous. It led to a conversation with Friedman’s father, Henry, a Duke oncologist. Beasley was then a Duke junior with an eye on medical school. She wanted a better idea of what awaited her, but didn’t know where to turn.

Friedman was sympathetic. He invited her to shadow him at the hospital. She balked at first, saying she couldn’t commit to the fixed schedule doctors generally follow.

No problem, Friedman told her. Come when you can. Get a feel for medicine.

She did. A decade later, she’s a Duke surgeon.


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Henry is a remarkable guy – a bearded, hyperkinetic native New Yorker who developed his science chops early at the city’s well-regarded Stuyvesant High School. He joined Duke in 1983 as an assistant professor where he has remained, rising to serve as co-director of the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Institute, a center that dates back to 1938 (eons ago in brain tumor time). He is often mistaken for his unrelated Duke colleague, Allan Friedman, the neurosurgeon cited more often in the national press for having operated on many high-profile patients. (I wrote a few months ago about the Drs Friedman here).

I need to ask Henry how he developed such a passion for the advancement female athletes but I suspect having a daughter plays into the mix. What I love about Henry is that he has taken his stature at an extremely competitive medical school and cancer center and provided opportunities for women in medicine.

As the CAPE program is described as follows on their website, collegiate athletes clearly have the dedication, perseverance, and work ethic needed to succeed in medical school and as a physician:

CAPE (Collegiate Athlete Pre-Medical Experience) is a year-round program offered by Duke University Medical Center and the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center to female athletes on Duke University’s twelve collegiate varsity athletic teams. The program provides participants with a wide variety of clinical experiences that provide exposure to the world of Medicine. CAPE is designed to engage some of the nation’s highest achieving young women in medical science and to help them onto the path toward careers in Medicine.

Success in medical school and in a medical career hinges on precisely those character attributes demonstrated by college athletes; these individuals, if engaged and well supported, would thus be likely to succeed in medical careers – that is, to provide quality patient care, function as valuable team players in the health system, take on leadership roles in their institutions and fields of specialization, and contribute to the advancement of medical science.

Beyond increasing the number of highly-qualified women in medicine, the CAPE program has also provided unforeseen advantages for Duke’s athletic programs:

The program has become a recruiting asset for coaches looking to snare a young athlete with dreams of a medical career.

“We’re the only program in the nation that works with pre-med students,” [Program Director Terry] Kruger said. “The coaches see that as a very, very valuable tool.”

Kruger and others say the program has been successful because the students understand their athletic careers will eventually end. Kelly Hathorn, a Duke senior who just finished her final season with the women’s soccer team, thinks women have a more practical view of college athletics in part because far fewer can play professionally.

“As much as I love soccer, I also love the idea of medical school,” Hathorn said. “For women, it’s not as much of a dream to be a professional athlete.”

I cite the particular example of Henry Friedman and his vision in pointing to the very creative ways that allies can improve access to professions where women and minorities are underrepresented. CAPE started as a serendipitous chance meeting between a woman collegiate athlete and a white male physician. The success of this individual mentoring has led to a formal program that this year will serve 49 Duke women.

So as we embark on planning and discussion for the ScienceOnline’09 session on Gender in Science – Online and Offline, we can use the CAPE experience as an example where men in positions of academic and professional power can be allies.

Additional items of interest
The Intelligent Dialogue marketing blog had a nice interview with Friedman last month on why the Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke is so highly regarded and draws high profile patients such as Teddy Kennedy, Robert Novak, and folksinger david m bailey.

An interesting aside on Georgia (Schweitzer) Beasley, mentioned at the outset of the Eric Ferreri article: regarding the fact that Georgia Schweitzer’s Duke jersey has yet to be retired by the university: DWHoops compares and contrasts Schweitzer’s accomplishments with that of the last three Duke men whose jerseys were retired, concluding:
It took a player of Alana Beard’s talent and accomplishments to finally break through that glass ceiling at Duke and have a woman’s jersey hang in the rafters of Cameron. We submit that if the standards used to judge the women had been similarly applied to the men, there would be far fewer jerseys hanging in Cameron. So by the same token, we suggest that the bar for women in the program should not be set as impossibly high as Beard’s great career numbers, or based on hit-or-miss national voting. The Hall of Honor was established in Cameron to honor “near-misses”, but in the opinion of dwhoops.com, like Chris Moreland before her, Georgia Schweitzer is not a player to be relegated to the far end of the hallway. As such, we are permanently “retiring” and honoring her #23 on the website.

[Note: DWHoops is an independent media company focusing on Duke women’s basketball but is in no way officially affiliated with the university.]