One of the most difficult juggling acts for any working adult involves balancing time, energy, and attention among responsibilities of work and family. For professionals in academic medicine and research, and particularly for women trying to start families and careers during the same few critical years, the challenge can be particularly intense.
Since 2004, the FOCUS program at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has annually recognized a member of the school’s faculty whose outstanding efforts have promoted women’s professional success, quality of life, or health at Penn Medicine. This year, the program leaders honored Dennis R. Durbin, MD, MSCE, director of Clinical and Translational Research at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, with the FOCUS Award for the Advancement of Women in Medicine.
“Dr. Durbin’s own experience and commitment to home life, in combination with his research mentoring expertise, have provided him a unique and powerful voice at Penn Medicine,” Dean J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, wrote in announcing the award to the Penn medical faculty. “The result has been Dr. Durbin’s remarkable impact on women, and all faculty — he truly exemplifies the purpose and spirit of the FOCUS Award.”
Although he was surprised to receive this recognition, Dr. Durbin was pleased in that it gave some recognition and validation to the work he has tried to accomplish through the establishment of a memorial fund in honor of his late wife, Joanne Decker, MD.
The couple met during their pediatrics residencies at CHOP and later again worked together in CHOP’s Division of Emergency Medicine for several years. During the final days of Dr. Decker’s life, they planned to establish a fund for a worthy cause in her memory that would support young physicians, principally women, navigating the work-life integration pathway early in their careers.
“As is very common for many young families in academic medicine like ours, we had spent a lot of effort thinking about various ways we were going to launch our careers and launch our family at the same time,” Dr. Durbin said. “Joanne was very intentional about it. At one time she made the decision to work part-time because she wanted to spend more time raising our kids. She received a lot of mentoring from senior colleagues, mostly other women, as she was making those decisions along the way. When she became a more established physician, she served that mentoring role for younger women in our division trying to manage that work-life integration.”
The Joanne Decker Memorial Fund was initially established in 2007 with gifts from many friends and family members. A few years later, the Department of Pediatrics at CHOP made a significant contribution to endow the fund, ensuring the longevity of its programs.
The fund established the Joanne Decker Memorial Work/Family Mentoring Award, given annually since 2009 to a faculty member at CHOP who serves as an exemplary role model by navigating the complexities and challenges of building a satisfying career and family life.
“It’s not about ‘having it all,’” Dr. Durbin noted. “The people we have recognized with this award have made intentional decisions about how they structure their work and manage family life to feel successful in all domains of their lives. I like that we can highlight examples of that each year, from many different divisions at CHOP.”
Past recipients of the Joanne Decker award are Elizabeth Alpern, MD, MSCE formerly of the Division of Emergency Medicine, Ann-Marie Leahey, MD of Oncology, Janet Lioy, MD, FAAP of Neonatology, Christina Master, MD, FAAP, CAQSM of Sports Medicine, Frances Nadel, MD, MSCE of the Division of Emergency Medicine, Elizabeth Rand, MD of Gastroenterology, Jeanine Ronan, MD a medical hospitalist in Pediatrics, and Oana Tomescu, MD, PhD of Adolescent Medicine,. Nominations for next year’s award will open in early spring 2016.
Dr. Durbin also has used the memorial fund to sponsor an annual Pediatrics Grand Rounds lecture focused on a topic relevant to the concept of work-life integration. In addition, an inaugural half-day symposium in 2014 for faculty at CHOP increased awareness of the importance of work-life integration and shared successful strategies on how to accomplish this delicate balance. Dr. Durbin intends to report the outcomes and recommendations from the symposium to CHOP leadership to support systemic improvements that will improve recruitment and retention of high-caliber faculty.
The FOCUS award to Dr. Durbin also acknowledges his role in mentoring and faculty development supporting more than 30 trainees and junior faculty. In his own research, Dr. Durbin is an internationally recognized injury epidemiologist focused on the prevention of motor vehicle occupant injuries to children and the prevention of teen driver crashes. He has authored over 150 peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts, and his research has contributed to enhancements in public policy and safety technology that have led to substantial reductions in the number of children killed in automobile crashes each year.