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Dr. Anderson a “dyed in the wool” academic leader Share This OHSU Content

02/23/11  Portland, Ore.

This is the first in a series of articles that will explore the connections between the School of Medicine and the Portland Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center. Collaborations between the two institutions have existed for decades and serve OHSU’s missions of health care, research, education and outreach.

Dr. AndersonSharon Anderson, MD, is matter-of-fact about her accomplishments. She is the first woman to hold the title of Chief of Medical Service at the Portland Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center (VAMC), is the former Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Faculty Affairs in the School of Medicine, and has held a number of other prominent positions during her career as a physician, educator and researcher. Yet, she attributes her success to simply following her passion. “I’m a dyed-in-the-wool academic. I’ve always been in academics. I can’t imagine not being in academics.”

In her current role, Dr. Anderson supervises inpatient and outpatient medical services at the Portland VAMC, which are provided by approximately 80 faculty primarily at the VAMC and hundreds more based in the School of Medicine who have joint appointments. She is a Professor in both the Departments of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine and Medicine, where she is Vice Chair for Veterans’ Affairs. Her many roles reflect the partnership and collaboration between the Portland VAMC and OHSU that takes place every day.

“Departments share bonds by teaching together, doing clinical case conferences together, and sharing an academic life together,” said Dr. Anderson. “It’s really clear that both institutions benefit from the presence of the other one.”

Her familiarity with the work of the VAMC stems from her time as a resident at OHSU, and later, her recruitment as a junior faculty member at both institutions. Her goals for the clinical practice include continuing the VAMC tradition “of being able to provide high quality, safe, effective, patient-centered care at low cost.”

Dr. Anderson is also a member of the group of senior women faculty members who began the Fund for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership. Inspired by the groundbreaking work of Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli, these women have formed the Labyrinth Movement, based on the idea that there is not necessarily one clear and definite path for women who aspire to top leadership roles.

“It’s not that women don’t get to be the president or the dean, it’s that they somehow don’t get selected for those intermediate administrative posts along the way,” said Dr. Anderson. “There are more subtle roadblocks at every stage.” At the time she received her training in nephrology, she said about 10 to 20 percent of her colleagues were women, and she sometimes encountered “an unconscious bias” against women, which she said is getting better all the time.

Mentoring plays a major role in the academic medicine environment, and Dr. Anderson said she greatly enjoys mentoring students and junior faculty members. “I spend a lot of time teaching them how to say ‘no,’ and that might be the most valuable thing I give them.” Competing demands can be a burden for anyone in academics. “As a junior faculty member you don’t feel empowered to say ‘no’ to anybody – not to your division chief, not to an editor who wants you to review a manuscript, not to someone who wants you to sit on a committee.”

Dr. Anderson stresses the importance of time management. “We all wonder sometimes whether we could have done a better job writing that grant or gotten that paper written a little sooner if we weren’t also seeing patients, but it’s a tradeoff that we understand,” she said. Besides, with experience comes expertise, right? “It’s still a balancing act every day.”


Pictured: Dr. Anderson