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Grace Farris: At the Intersection of Medicine, Motherhood & Art

March 29, 2021

This news feature is part of Dell Med's Voices, a series of profiles that highlight the people of Dell Med as they work to improve health with a unique focus on our community.

Grace Farris standing in the HTB courtyard.

Grace Farris, M.D.

More than two thirds of practicing women physicians are mothers, facing widespread equity issues — like a persistent pay gap and gender bias in promotions — while juggling the demands of domestic labor. Grace Farris, M.D., knows this experience all too well as an academic hospitalist and mother of two.

Assistant professor in Dell Medical School’s Department of Internal Medicine, Farris amplifies the lived experiences of women in medicine through graphic medicine, posting her comics online (@coupdegracefarris) to document the discourse of health care.

Facing a Lack of Representation

Farris believes the way health care workers are portrayed in the media — often a male physician breadwinner with a caregiver wife at home — has a huge influence on the culture of medicine. She sees the trope reflected in the lack of daycare centers at hospitals, few or no sick days built into staffing structures and a false perception that women physicians must work part time.

“The more we can move away from this mythology and have visibility of women physicians at all levels of academic leadership, the better,” Farris says. “I hope that my work contributes to this cultural change.”

At a national level, leadership in academic medicine is mostly male. Women are half as likely as men to achieve roles such as dean, provost or department chair.

While there are a growing number of medical schools, very few of them have female deans, department chairs or division chiefs.

“The University of Texas and Dell Medical School have taken steps to address equity issues, but across the board, most medical schools have a lot of work to do in this area,” Farris says. “There’s a popular expression: ‘if you want to promote women, promote women.’”

Creating Change in Austin & New York City

To address this inequity, Farris turned to written and visual storytelling. Her comics and essays can be found in the New York Times, NPR.org, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Vogue, and various medical journals.

“My work seeks to represent the experiences of physician mothers and women in medicine through accessible visual storytelling,” Farris says.

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Her comics are informed by her simultaneous experiences as a mother and leader in medicine. As the former Division Chief of Hospital Medicine at Mount Sinai West in New York City, she focused her efforts on faculty development, retention and promotion.

“I have been an academic hospitalist for ten years,” Farris says. “During that time, I’ve had two children, which made me confront the structural barriers to success as a physician mother.” Farris was named a November 2020 “Hospitalist Mover and Shaker” by the Society of Hospital Medicine. And in the New York Times, she chronicled her experience living apart from her children while she cared for COVID patients in New York City. Farris is currently working on an illustrated book that explores motherhood and is excited to see other health care professionals create art about their experiences, including a former Dell Seton Medical Center intern whose comics can be seen at @myhumeruslife.

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