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Department launches Women of WUDA

The Women of WUDA (Washington University Department of Anesthesiology), affectionately known as WoW, hosted its inaugural retreat at the Wild Carrot on Saturday, February 4. Over 100 women from the department joined together for a morning of professional development, wellness activities, and networking opportunities.

Created and led by Erin Herrera, CRNA, associate vice chair for well-being, and Enyo Ablordeppey, MD, MPH, FACEP, FCCM, associate vice chair for diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with the WoW committee, this event stemmed from ongoing efforts to improve inclusivity, diversity, and well-being. The department’s quadripartite mission stresses the importance of fostering a culture of empowerment and collaboration, and WoW helps to advance these missions by championing the women in the department.

“There are many entrenched barriers that have hampered the success of women in academia, as well as in society more broadly. We must unite in breaking down barriers to ensure that every member of our department has the best chance to flourish and actualize their potential,” says Michael Avidan, MBBCh, FCA SA, head of the Department of Anesthesiology. “I am excited about the WoW initiative and look forward to working closely with the WoW committee to achieve its goals!”

The retreat began with brunch and the keynote speaker, Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, MD, MPH, the director of health for the City of St. Louis. Dr. Hlatshwayo Davis joined the retreat via Zoom from South Africa, and discussed her career and how she got to where she is today. She provided unique perspectives and encouraged attendees to go after what they want – their passions, career goals and personal goals, too.

“The keynote speaker was incredible,” says Grant Specialist, Whitney Payne. “She talked a bit about working and nursing her child at the same time, and the unfair expectation of invisible labor on women. It was so timely for some insecurities I’ve been having about being a working mom. To know others have experienced similar feelings made me realize I am not alone.” Payne also mentions that she is excited the department is “getting these conversations going and supporting us in the process.”

After the keynote, the morning was broken up into two blocks—each with two sessions. The first block was dedicated to health & wellness and was presented by women-owned businesses in the St. Louis-area. Attendees created therapeutic horticulture flower arrangements with the Missouri Botanical Garden, sewed calming eye masks filled with rice and essential oils with Perennial, participated in a restorative stretch with Personal Space Fitness, and experienced a restorative sound bath with Aria Thorme.

Midway through the morning, the group heard from an inspiring panel of women including: 

  • Maureen Arends, Assistant to the Chair
  • Audrey Vincent, Executive Director of Business Operations
  • Joanna Abraham, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and the Institute for Informatics
  • Lesley Rao, MD, Chief of Pain Management
  • Michele Grunwald, Business Director

Panelists took turns answering questions from participants about work-life balance, mentorship, how to attain leadership positions, and more.

“The panel discussion during the WoW retreat was so audience-focused. In addition to asking panelists to make their information and stories relatable, I loved that we got to participate in the discussion with a live Q&A,” says Ilesha Shah, MD, PGY-4 resident.

The second block of the morning focused on professional development, specifically tailored to women. Each member chose two lectures to attend—these included:

  • Resume building and development presented by Grunwald
  • Identifying and overcoming imposter syndrome presented by Rao
  • The role of mentorship, sponsorship, and self-promotion presented by the Director of Learning & Development, Rachel Moquin, EdD
  • Addressing and coping with burnout in women presented by Krista Jarvis, clinical case manager for the Department of Psychiatry
  • Negotiation skills presented by the Chief of General Anesthesiology, Molly McCormick, MD

“WoW was absolutely amazing! It surpassed any expectations I had,” says Alex Shero, AG-ACNP-BC. “Every speaker was inspiring and educational, and I feel like I have a new light on how to progress forward in my career field.”

At the end of the retreat, attendees gathered around to socialize and network with colleagues, sign up for affinity groups, find mentors, and give suggestions for events and activities for the WoW committee to consider for the future.

“I hope that WoW will continue to grow and be a place where women from all areas of the department are able to find support, encouragement and education no matter their career goals,” says Herrera. “It was so wonderful to see so many women, who serve in many diverse roles, all come together to celebrate the incredible impact women have in our department.”