Merle Waxman, Director of the Office for Women in Medicine, Yale School of Medicine


Merle WaxmanAt Yale School of Medicine, Merle Waxman is working tirelessly to support current faculty and promote the position of women in medical sciences and healthcare. As Ombudsperson and Director of the Office for Women in Medicine, she is perfectly positioned to identify, understand and respond to the drivers of gender imbalance.


How did your background lead to your appointment as Director of the Office for Women in Medicine at Yale School of Medicine (YMS)? What does this role entail?

I started my career as a speech and hearing therapist. Although I did not realise it at the time, my early training in active listening helped me decades later when I came to Yale from Stanford School of Medicine and was appointed Head of the Office for Women in Medicine. This Office was initially established at Yale in 1975 in response to the concerns of a small but growing number of women faculty members.

While I was at Stanford, I was an assistant ombudsman at the medical school. In 1990, when the Dean at Yale School of Medicine decided that an ombudsman’s office should be established, he asked if I would take on that added responsibility. Time management was a challenge, but in retrospect, taking on that role was one of the best decisions of my professional career.

You brought the ‘ombuds’ concept to YMS. How can an ombudsperson contribute to the effectiveness of a medical institution? How do you use your skills and expertise to resolve conflict in this role?

An ombuds office can provide an informal but important resource to any organisation. In some cases it can preempt the need for formal conflict resolution processes or litigation. The primary characteristics of the ombuds office are that it is confidential, neutral, informal and independent. The ombudsperson is an active listener and is trained to frame the issue brought to the office and to develop options for the visitor.

Each situation brought to the office may have a unique pathway towards solution. The only time when the confidentiality of the office is broken is if there is the perceived possibility of imminent harm.

From the institution’s point of view the office may be looked at as an ‘early warning system’. With a direct line of reporting to the CEO or Dean of the organisation/school system, problems or incipient problems may be nipped in the bud before they escalate into larger issues. The Ombuds Office at Yale School of Medicine is multifaceted; my visitors include students, postdoctoral fellows, junior faculty, senior faculty and other staff at all levels. The problems I come across are therefore quite diverse and require a variety of different responses. Life is never dull!

This is an excerpt from a longer discussion published in International Innovation. To access the interview in full, go to: