Women In Academic Medicine: 'Cultural Barriers' To Leadership

This article is more than 8 years old.
Harvard Medical School (SBAmin, Wikimedia Commons)
Harvard Medical School (SBAmin, Wikimedia Commons)

Among the Lords of Longwood — my term for the rulers of the great Boston medical-industrial complex — there are certainly more women than there used to be, especially in high hospital positions.

But a piece just up on the American Medical Association's reports that among the leaders of academic medicine nationwide, major gender gaps persist.

For the past decade, women have made up about 50% of medical students, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Meanwhile, the average medical school has 43 female full professors compared with 192 male full professors, said Linda Pololi, MD, lead study author and senior scientist at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

[module align="right" width="half" type="pull-quote"]'Medical schools have failed to create an environment where women feel fully accepted and supported to succeed.'[/module]

“Those numbers are still absolutely shocking, and without a good explanation,” she said.

To gain insight into the cultural barriers women face in academic medicine, researchers surveyed 4,578 full-time faculty at 26 U.S. medical schools. They found that women reported a lower sense of belonging and support and were more pessimistic about gender equity and their chances for advancement compared with men. Women also were less likely to believe that their institutions were family-friendly or to see their values as aligning with the institutions.

The average medical school has 43 female full professors and 192 male full professors.

The findings, published online Aug. 31, demonstrate that medical schools have failed to create an environment where women feel fully accepted and supported to succeed, said Dr. Pololi, director and principal investigator of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine, also known as C-Change, which engages medical schools in research aimed at attaining equality in academic medicine.

The piece suggests that a sort of closed circle is at work: Women have not reached a critical mass at leadership levels in academic medicine, and without more women at the top, culture is slow to change. Also, it says, many institutions don't perceive a problem.

Readers, thoughts?

This program aired on September 17, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.