Inspiring Support for Women

Martin Samuels was recently honored with the 2013 Joseph B. Martin Dean's Leadership Award for the Advancement of Women

(from left): Rhonda Bently-Lewis, Samuels and Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of HMS. Image: Steve Gilbert

When asked the meaning of the Torah, the venerable Rabbi Hillel is said to have replied:  “Treat people like you want to be treated.  All the rest is commentary.” 

This sage advice has been the overarching principle for how Martin A. Samuels, HMS professor of neurology, has led the Department of Neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital since its inception.  

During his 20-year tenure as chair, the Brigham and Women's departmental faculty has grown to 250 members and has matured to include a diverse portfolio of clinical care, research and educational activities.

The department has also become a model for the advancement of the careers of women in medicine, and Samuels has been a key advocate behind that endeavor.  

Samuels, who joined the HMS faculty in 1973, has been instrumental in developing and promoting the first of its kind women’s neurology program at Brigham and Women’s.  The initiative has not only provided a unique opportunity for the advancement of an understudied field, but it has also fostered the recruitment and retention of women faculty. 

Among the current women faculty members in the department, four are full professors and more than a third are associate professors. Women also make up more than half of all members of the department’s residency program, which at 51 members is the largest in the world.

In recognition of his stellar leadership in this area, Samuels was recently recognized with the 2013 Joseph B. Martin Dean's Leadership Award for the Advancement of Women.

In support of his nomination, faculty members praised his caring and supportive nature, along with his visionary leadership of the department and his personalized approach to faculty career development.

Dr. Samuels has been extremely supportive of me in a professional capacity, and I have seen his impact on many of the other women in the department. All consider him to be a wonderful leader who is energetic and consistent in his efforts to increase the visibility of women in the department and to help with their professional advancement,” wrote a faculty member.

 “He listens to us very carefully and empathetically and then helps us find the paths that capitalize on our strengths. He then follows his motto of ‘we will make it happen.’ He really does do whatever it takes to get us where we need to be. But it is his uncanny ability to help identify where it is that we want to be that really enhances our ability to attain our full career potential,” another faculty member added.

Samuels credited many mentors for contributing to his own career development, including a number of women. When receiving the award at the faculty of medicine awards meeting, Samuels literally wore his support on his sleeves, donning a pink sport coat as a symbol of his support for women faculty.

 “My junior high school homeroom and English teacher, Luise Elconin, was the first to make it clear to me that I needed to take academic pursuits seriously.  She taught the rigor of proper English and expected a lot from me.  Evelyn Hess demonstrated the power of the clinical method.  Helen Glueck was a model for the clinical researcher,” said Samuels.

“The most memorable of my mentors was probably Dame Professor Sheila Sherlock, ‘the Liver Queen.’  I was fortunate to spend time with her at the Royal Free Hospital, a women’s medical school in London, between medical school and residency.  When I was about to leave there, I went to her office to ask her to sign a copy of her seminal liver book.  She asked what I wanted to do and I said I was thinking about becoming a neurologist.  She replied that I should train first in medicine at Boston City Hospital, which she held in high regard, and where a number of her old colleagues worked.  She went to the phone and called one of them, saying, ‘I’ve got a good boy here; a good chap who will work hard.  I think you should give him a job.’  And that is how I got the biggest break in my career, an internship at Boston City Hospital,” Samuels recalled.

And the rest, as they say, is history.