Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Cynthia Kubu: A Role Model for Women

December 11, 2013 6:58 pm

By Debby Scheinholtz

Dr. Cynthia Kubu, Cleveland ClinicStrong women have influenced the life choices of Dr. Cynthia Kubu, a neuropsychologist and Associate Director of the NeuroEthics Program at Cleveland Clinic, and co-president the hospital’s Women’s Professional Staff Association.

As the oldest child and only daughter of a single working mother, Kubu was taught early on that she had the same opportunities as her four brothers. “It was always assumed that I would do everything my brothers did, whether it was archery, backpacking, camping,” she says. “There were no limits imposed on me.” Her mother, who returned  to school to get a nursing degree while raising her family, did point out gender discrepancies to Kubu and raised her awareness of social justice.

Kubu’s father is a physician, and with both parents in the health profession, “I just assumed that I would go into medicine in some way,” she says.

Kubu credits the two years she spent at an all-girls high school, Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Del., as a strong influence on her belief in gender equality. “It helped me develop my leadership abilities and freed me from some of the gender-based biases and expectations that I think a lot of young teens may be susceptible to. I felt unfettered to really excel in science,” she says.

Because the all-girls school didn’t have a band and Kubu wanted to play keyboards, she became the only girl in the jazz band at a nearby boys’ school. “Those two experiences were very helpful, because I learned how to get along with the boys but at the same time [succeed] in an environment that was very intentionally encouraging for girls to spread their wings,” she says.

An Inclusive Workplace

After arriving at Cleveland Clinic in 2001, Kubu found colleagues who provided a stimulating intellectual environment while supporting work-life balance. “Early on, I was the only working mom in my section, but that was never ever questioned, and my section head is a very devoted father,” she says.

As co-president of Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Professional Staff Association (WPSA), Kubu and other board members are able to work with the support of Cleveland Clinic leadership, including CEO Dr. Toby Cosgrove, to recruit, retain and develop more women staff. The WPSA is open to any of the women professional staff at Cleveland Clinic (No. 3 in DiversityInc’s Top 10 Hospital Systems). There are approximately 3,000 staff, and about a third of them are women. These include physicians and Ph.D.-trained staff, as well as Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine students.

The group is part of the Office of Professional Staff Affairs, and while not officially considered one of Cleveland Clinic’s 10 resource groups, WPSA frequently partners with the Women in Search of Excellence (WISE) resource group, which is open to all female employees (including nurses and administrators).

The WPSA focuses on issues that will keep women engaged and thriving in a profession that is often grueling. The group sponsors a Grand Rounds series—a familiar teaching tool in the medical profession in which doctors are presented with problems to solve. Experts are brought in to discuss cutting-edge research in the healthcare arena of particular interest to women. “The experts might provide a slightly different perspective, perhaps ethical or political,” she explains. “One expert spoke about physician burnout, which is a problem for all physicians but appears to affect women more.”

Approximately half of all new medical-school graduates are women. Forty-four percent of Cleveland Clinic staff younger than 45 are women, but that figure drops to 27 percent for those older than 45.

“So it’s a very different landscape now with more and more younger women coming on board. Even their partners, the men, also want more of this balance. They want a life and they’re also eager to get out there and do the best they can professionally,” says Kubu.

Being a Mentor

Throughout her career, Kubu has been gratified to serve as a mentor for students and trainees. Among the lessons she hopes she’s taught them:

  • Act as if you belong at the table, even if you don’t feel like you do. As soon as you act like you don’t, that’s how you’ll be treated.
  • Be intentional. Your career is a journey and you need to have some goals in place and be strategic about how you want to achieve those goals, but not so close-minded that you don’t keep yourself open to opportunities you may have never considered before.

“I’ll get emails where someone will let me know, ‘I just published this big paper,’ ‘I just had my first baby,’ or, ‘I’ve been telling my students exactly what you said,’‘’ she says.