Center for the Advancement of Women in Health Care Director
Sheila Dugan, MD, professor and interim chairperson of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rush Medical College, has been a leader in the campaign for equality for women in the workforce at Rush for more than a decade. Dugan was a founding member in 2006 of the first women's advisory group at Rush, composed of female physicians and scientists.
"We tried to encourage our leaders to understand our aspirations, appreciate our capabilities and help us find opportunities," she says. At that point, however, there was no accountability structure in place to move those aspirations toward reality.
Over time, the group expanded to include nurses, other health care workers and women in Rush's corporate offices, and its efforts became more focused. In 2010, Dugan founded the Women's Leadership Council reporting directly to Rush leadership. Its goals were to improve transparency on pay and promotions, provide opportunities for women to develop skills that could lead to advancement, and to educate key players on the value of mentorship and of promoting women for committees, presentations and advancement into leadership roles.
Today, Dugan is chair of the Rush Women’s Leadership Council, sits on the Diversity Leadership Council, is a Carol Emmott Fellow, and is on the steering committee of the “Women in Medicine Summit: An Evolution in Empowerment,” September 20 – 21 in Chicago.
"We still need to work on getting women into that pipeline to upper management to advance our education and training, research and patient care models" she says.
The eighth of nine children, Dugan went through college and medical training on scholarships and hard work. She has a biology degree from the University of Chicago, a physical therapy degree from Northwestern University and a medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She was an intern in internal medicine at the University of Chicago and served her residency at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Dugan has been at Rush since 2001 and has a college-age son.
Between college and medical school, Dugan worked as a physical therapist for several years. Prior to coming to Rush, she was on the faculty at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, where she worked in the spine clinic, among other duties. She is also a cancer survivor and has a disabled sibling. All these experiences, she says, give her a nuanced and empathetic perspective, not only in terms of her patients, but also toward other health care team members.
She says, "When three-quarters of the paychecks at an institution are going to women, as they do at Rush, it's important for the environment to be friendly to women and for women to feel like they are included — that their voices matter."