While the premise of a recent study from British Medical Journal is a bit cheeky, the issue it reveals is a serious one: despite major gains in women’s medical school enrollment (women now make up close to 50% of medical school graduates, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation), women make up less than 15% of medical school leadership on average.
The group behind the study looked at the top 50 U.S. medical schools, Pacific Standard Magazine reports:
We found that women accounted for 13% (137/1018) of department leaders…. Moustachioed individuals were all men and accounted for 19% (190/1018) of all department leaders,” the team writes. Nineteen medical schools had a mustache density of more than 20 percent, while only seven had more than 20 percent women leaders.
While three specialties had slightly more female representation in their leadership (obstetrics and gynecology: 36 percent, pediatrics: 31 percent, and dermatology: 23 percent), the authors told PS Magazine that the gender gap persisted across specialty.
An article from the Clayman Institute for Gender Research published last January dives deeper into the potential reasons behind this gap. The article additionally points out that this gap is also present among medical faculty, with women representing just 20% of full professors in medical schools.
In a talk given at the Stanford School of Medicine, Dr. Linda Boxer, a Vice Dean there, addressed some of the factors shaping the persistent gender gap.
Based on research collected by SoM, female faculty often cited pressure from perceptions of “what it takes” in terms of balancing work and responsibilities for family as consideration for leaving academic medicine. Options such as flexible hours or working part-time are too often viewed as damaging to a woman’s career in academic medicine, and faculty think the institution should continue to do more to foster a culture that supports integrating work and life. Boxer admitted that the “motherhood penalty” continues to play a significant role in this field as it does in other professional careers.
The article also addresses some of the potential solutions for this gap, including increasing flexibility, trainings aimed at reducing unconscious bias, and mentoring for faculty with children.
It’s important to note as well that there is a large racial divide in the medical field. Colorlines reports:
According to 2013 statistics about the racial makeup of U.S. physicians from the Association of Medical Colleges, only 4.1 percent were black, 4.4 percent were Latino and 0.4 percent were Native. Asians made up 11.7. Compare these percentages to 2013 census data: blacks represented 13.2 percent of the population; Latinos made up 17.4 percent; and Natives comprised 1.4 percent. Asians, at 5.4 percent of the total population, were over represented in the medical field.
This underrepresentation continues at the faculty level. Addressing the race and gender gaps in medical education is an important step toward ensuring equity for patients as well, as Dr. June McKoy argues in her article for The Root:
Fewer black doctors in positions of authority sends a dangerous message to patients, perpetuating the belief that physicians of color are inferior to white physicians. By contrast, institutional equity—and better outcomes—occur when institutional leadership is diverse. Prejudice is thwarted when different voices commit to exorcising both hibernating and active racism.
While having a representational number of women and people of color in medical institutions won’t solve the larger structural disparities on their own, it’s an important step in the right and necessary direction.