Advancing Gender Equity in Medicine with UCSF OHNS's Jennifer R. Grandis, MD

October 5, 2023

In the world of medicine and science, there is an imperative to ensure that talent knows no gender bias. Recognizing the importance of this issue, the John Conley, MD Lecture on Medical Ethics has chosen to spotlight Jennifer R. Grandis, MD, a distinguished professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), as its 2023 Lecturer. Dr. Grandis, a passionate physician-scientist, delivered a powerful lecture titled "Building and Sustaining Careers: A Gender Equity Lens" during the AAO-HNSF Annual Meeting & OTO Experience Opening Ceremony on Sunday, October 1, 2023.


Jennifer R. Grandis, MD

The John Conley, MD Lecture on Medical Ethics

This prestigious award is named in honor of Dr. John Conley, a luminary in the field of head and neck surgery. It reflects Dr. Conley's dedication to the practice of medicine and his profound love for head and neck surgery. This award is not just a recognition of excellence but also a celebration of the ethics and professionalism that Dr. Conley cherished throughout his career.

A Visionary in Medicine

Dr. Grandis is a remarkable figure in the world of medicine and science. Her work in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, combined with her role in the Developmental Therapeutics Program at UCSF's Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, has made her a true pioneer in her field.

As a physician-scientist, Dr. Grandis's journey in head and neck surgery began with a realization of the suffering endured by head and neck cancer patients. Traditional treatments often came with debilitating side effects and limited curative outcomes. This fueled her passion to discover more precise and effective treatments. Her research led to a significant focus on epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signaling and the development of EGFR-targeted therapies, such as cetuximab. Dr. Grandis and her team identified the activation of the STAT3 pathway as a common mechanism of drug resistance, resulting in the development of a STAT3 inhibitor now undergoing clinical testing. "We discovered that head and neck cancer patients whose tumors harbored genetic alterations that activated the PI3K signaling pathway and were taking NSAIDs (usually baby aspirin) had significantly improved survival."

What sets Dr. Grandis apart is her commitment to bridging the gap between the laboratory and the clinic. Her research not only yields new findings but also generates relevant preclinical models that help unravel the underlying mechanisms of clinical observations. This holistic approach is essential for translating scientific discoveries into practical, life-saving treatments.

Collaboration and Mentorship

Dr. Grandis has excelled in her research and played a pivotal role in fostering collaboration between clinicians and investigators. "We need to find common values and goals and create spaces to foster interactions. The rewards can be extraordinary," adds Dr. Grandis. This collaboration has paved the way for robust clinical and translational cancer studies. Her dedication to building a strong research infrastructure at both the University of Pittsburgh and UCSF has been instrumental in advancing cancer research.

However, Dr. Grandis's impact extends beyond her research and institutional roles. She has dedicated significant time and effort to mentoring and supporting her peers. Dr. Grandis advises, "Know what makes you happy and enrich your life with these activities. Clinical medicine and teaching are immensely satisfying, time-consuming and often inflexible. Create space for your loved ones and self-care on a regular (daily) basis. Research has the potential to change the world beyond our clinical practice, but it is often challenging." Her exceptional mentorship has been recognized with prestigious awards, including the University of Pittsburgh Provost's Award for Excellence in Mentoring and the William E. Brown Outstanding MSTP Mentor Award from the Medical Scientist Training Program. Dr. Grandis's commitment to nurturing the next generation of scientists and physicians embodies her belief in gender equity and diversity in the field.

An Advocate

Dr. Jennifer R. Grandis's influence reaches far beyond her immediate circle. She is an elected member of esteemed organizations such as the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians and the National Academy of Medicine. Her involvement in these organizations demonstrates her dedication to advancing the practice of medicine and science on a global scale.

"I am honored to have been welcomed into these national societies and sincerely hope that we can increase the number of otolaryngologists elected. These organizations unite academic physicians and physician-scientists in all medical disciplines who mobilize to collectively solve hard problems (like gender equity) and advance biomedical knowledge," shares Dr. Grandis.

Jennifer R. Grandis, MD

Commitment to Gender Equity

Dr. Grandis's commitment to gender equity in science and medicine is deeply personal and driven by the need for change. "In 2018, I was harassed and realized that if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone." She highlights the gender pay gap and discrimination faced by women in medicine and has conducted research to better understand and address these issues. "I was surprised then to find that women otolaryngologists earned 20% less than men for the same work." During a time when women scientists and physicians continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles, face discrimination and harassment, and receive unequal compensation compared to their male counterparts, her lecture serves as a beacon of hope and a roadmap for change.

Through her lecture, Dr. Grandis aims to facilitate open discussions on these uncomfortable topics and inspire collaborative efforts toward achieving gender equity. "I hope to help people find the language to talk about topics that are often uncomfortable and work collaboratively towards solving hard problems. Medicine is a healing profession and harming our own hurts all of us, especially the patients who could benefit from the talents of women physicians and scientists."

Dr. Grandis's lecture, "Building and Sustaining Careers: A Gender Equity Lens," is an exploration of the challenges and opportunities faced by women in science and medicine. Her lecture synthesizes the experiences and perspectives of both women at various career stages. It is a call to action, a powerful reminder that gender equity is not just an aspiration but an urgent necessity in medicine and science.

Dr. Grandis's lecture serves as a reminder that the path to gender equity in medicine and science is not just a moral imperative but a vital step toward harnessing the full potential of our diverse and talented workforce. Dr. Grandis's tireless efforts and innovative work exemplify the spirit of Dr. John Conley's legacy, which continues to inspire us all in our pursuit of excellence and ethics in the practice of medicine.

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