By Dirk Hoffman
Published October 10, 2023
Gabriela K. Popescu, PhD, professor of biochemistry, has been honored by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in recognition of her 10 years of service on its Council of Faculty and Academic Societies (CFAS) Executive Committee.
The AAMC Board of Directors voted to confer Distinguished Service Membership on Popescu.
Formal recognition of the election will take place at Learn Serve Lead 2023, the AAMC’s annual meeting Nov. 3-7 in Seattle, Washington.
As a Distinguished Service Member, Popescu will receive free subscriptions to AAMC publications, receive access to online “private” member content, be invited to spring meetings of the Council of Deans, and have her registration fee for Learn Serve Lead waived.
“Receiving Distinguished Service Membership feels to me like being awarded tenure at a prestigious institution; it means that the service I had the privilege to provide during the past 10 years, aside from being an education for me, it also earned me a lifetime of belonging in an organization that represents academic medicine in North America,” Popescu says.
Popescu, who served as chair of several CFAS committees, chair of the Administrative Board, and represented the Council on the AAMC Board of Directors, says the Distinguished Service Membership “ensures that I will always be a welcomed participant to meetings of the AAMC leadership.”
She says the benefits the designation confers will have a positive effect on her research efforts.
“They will keep me connected with AAMC leadership, give me direct access to their resources, and also a direct line of communication should challenges to research arise that would require AAMC intervention,” Popescu says.
Of the many issues on which CFAS has been influential over the past 10 years, three stand out in impact and significance in Popescu’s opinion — burnout, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and diversity, equity and inclusion.
“The Council has been the first to call attention to the pervasive issue of burnout and the importance of well-being for trainees and faculty alike,” she says. “It has also been a strong and tenacious advocate for stable sustainable research funding by Congress to the NIH.”
Popescu notes the CFAS is the most diverse group within the AAMC, comprised of educators, researchers and clinicians — from schools across the U.S. and Canada, small and large, private and not, and at all levels of career and specialties — and increasingly inclusive of ethnic, gender and other minoritized groups.
“As such, we had the moral authority and firsthand knowledge to advocate for changes that increase inclusivity, collegiality and equity,” she says.
Popescu remembers receiving a phone call from an AAMC representative in the summer of 2013 inviting her to serve on the Administrative Board of the newly formed Council of Academic Societies within the AAMC.
“As a basic scientist and an immigrant, I had very little knowledge of the AAMC mission, organizational structure and activities,” she says.
The previous year she had participated in a three-day leadership seminar for mid-career women faculty organized by the AAMC, and she had been very impressed by the high level of professionalism and the supportive camaraderie that developed during that workshop.
“Therefore, I was intrigued by the invitation to reconnect with AAMC and asked a lot of questions,” Popescu says.
She learned that historically, faculty had been represented within the AAMC through the Group on Academic Societies. By creating the Council on Faculty and Academic Societies in 2013, the AAMC expanded the participation of faculty by inviting direct representation from member organizations, and at the same time elevated the group on par with its other two governing councils: the Council of Deans, and the Council of Teaching Hospitals.
“Clearly the invitation to serve was an honor, a chance for unprecedented influence, and an unimagined opportunity to expand my horizon,” Popescu says. “At the time, I had just been promoted to associate professor, and with an established lab and stable funding, I felt ready to explore how I can contribute to science and academia beyond the bench.”
“From the beginning we wanted to be the voice of faculty within the AAMC and the voice of AAMC within our institutions,” she adds.
“Ten years later, I step aside from the Administrative Board of CFAS with the satisfaction of seeing the Council come into its maturity — functioning at a high level and making important contributions to the health of our organizations.”