Professional Development through Story and Reflection: The Stepping Stones of Women in Leadership Program

Publication ID Published Volume
9858 July 28, 2014 10


Despite the great strides made by women in medicine and science, women still comprise a small proportion of leadership roles in academic medicine. To students, residents, and the junior or mid-career woman faculty member, the path to leadership can appear confusing, complex, and riddled with challenges. Self-reflection plays a powerful role in the development of women leaders in academic medicine. Thus discussing life lessons of successful women can be an important method to empower women to create and embrace their own career paths. It was for the purpose of demystifying the path to leadership that the Stepping Stones of Women in Leadership program was developed. Through interviews conducted in front of an audience, the program uses the power of successful women’s stories to teach audience members about leadership and career development. Rather than a formal presentation, the interview format allows the personal and professional career development story to unfold more naturally, and capitalizes on the power of reflection to stimulate learning.

The workshop series uses a unique design, public interviews with a successful woman leader about her personal and professional milestones, to achieve the following goals:

  • demystify the path to leadership,
  • broaden available role models of success,
  • encourage self-reflection and proactive career management, and
  • celebrate the success of the guest speaker.

Between 2008 and 2013, we conducted 17 sessions. Total combined attendance across the 17 sessions was 377. Attendees included faculty from basic science and clinical departments as well as graduate students and staff members. At the conclusion of each interview, attendees were asked to evaluate the session. The evaluation form (included as a resource in this submission) consists of quantitative and qualitative questions. Using a 5-point Likert scale where 5 indicates “strongly agree,” attendees were asked to assess whether the format was interesting and held their attention, and if they would recommend the program to others. Two open-ended questions were also included on the evaluation form, asking attendees to describe a memorable moment from the program and identify a take-home message. Additionally, attendees are asked to suggest future guests.

A total of 203 evaluations were completed during this time period. The session format was found to be highly interesting and effective with a mean score of 4.67 on the Likert scale; individual session means on this item ranged from 4.28 to 5. Further, most attendees strongly agreed that they would recommend this program to others with a mean response score of 4.66, and individual session means ranging from 4.36 to 5.

The authors analyzed the responses to attendees’ open-ended questions for qualitative themes, using an inductive process to determine categories across interviews.14 Although many comments were specific to the individual leaders, seven themes emerged from analysis of the program evaluations. These themes included: (1) personal stories are powerful; (2) adversity is common (3) be flexible and seize opportunities ; (4) strength must be developed; (5) mentoring is crucial; (6) let your passion direct your path; (7) work hard and persevere. In particular, many attendees shared that they were inspired by these women and that hearing about their challenges made the journey to leadership seem more real and manageable. Future research could be conducted with attendees to discover how they have integrated these principles in their leadership paths.

Based on the evaluations, we have made changes to our process and selection of women leaders to interview. In particular, a number of participants asked that we interview more mid-career leaders. We also have worked to include women from diverse backgrounds and different leadership roles including clinical, basic science, education, and administration.


Dankoski M, Welch J, Palmer M, Hoffmann-Longtin K, Walvoord E. Professional development through story and reflection: the stepping stones of women in leadership program. MedEdPORTAL Publications. 2014;10:9858.

Educational Objectives

After attending the sessions, participants will be able to:

  1. Reflect on and recognize their own career development milestones.
  2. Identify strategies for building leadership skills.
  3. Describe ways to overcome challenges in career advancement.


  • Leadership Development, Women in Medicine, Professional Development, Faculty Development, Reflection, Narrative, Personal Narrative, Storytelling

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ISSN 2374-8265