University of Pennsylvania researchers have hit on a new way to point out how rare it is for women to become leaders at academic medical institutions: The Mustache Index.

No kidding. While 20 percent of the nation's top medical school leadership positions are held by men with mustaches, just 13 percent are held by women, reports a paper that appears in BMJ's annual Christmas issue, much anticipated for its light-hearted take on serious subjects.

"The lack of women in leadership roles in medicine is well-documented, but despite the eccentricities of the study, our results show that even when you focus solely on men with mustaches - which are rare - women are still outnumbered across various specialties," said lead author, Mackenzie Wehner, a dermatology resident physician at Penn Medicine, in a press release.

Wehner and colleagues used a simple methodology: They looked at more than 1,000 headshots of department leaders at the nation's top institutions, posted on their web sites. (And for those who really wonder about the more exotic styles of facial hair, there's even a handy taxonomy included.)

The specialties most likely to have women in charge were obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, dermatology, family medicine and emergency medicine.

The Mustache Index may be a little goofy, but it makes a serious point, especially at a time when women comprise more than half of all medical students, but just about one-fifth of full professors at medical schools.

By the way, as this Inquirer profile of Wills Eye Hospital chief Dr. Julia Haller last summer noted, Philadelphia doesn't fare too badly when it comes to women in healthcare leadership.   Kathleen Kinslow was CEO of Pennsylvania Hospital for 18 years before taking over at Aria Health Systems in 2010. And this year, Madeline Bell, who began her career as a floor nurse, became the first female CEO at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia since its founding in 1855.


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