Women Still Missing From Medicine’s Top Ranks

The New York Times reported yesterday morning that today, women now make up nearly half of all medical students and comprise a third of academic faculty. But when it comes to top ranking positions in medicine, these women are all but absent.

According to the Journal of Medicine, which recently published a survey of women in the top ranks of medicine, only 12 percent of medical department chiefs are women, and only 4 percent of full professors are women. In comparison with men, women were more aware of a sense of exclusion from their communities and were not confident about the possibility of being promoted.

And yet, in the same survey, men and women were both found to be equally engaged in their work and had similar aspirations for leadership roles. As the researchers wrote, “Medical schools have failed to create and sustain an environment where women feel fully accepted and supported to succeed.” 

It's partly a question of bias amongst professionals in the scientific field, as professors often consider their female students in a less positive light than their male counterparts. And yet the number of women in medical school is rising at a steady rate: according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the total number of women in medical schools has risen each year. In 1983, women made up less than a third of medical school students; in 2011, they represented 47 percent. Out of students who received their M.D. degrees that year, women received 48.4 percent, which made this the largest number of women earning an M.D. of any year to date.

As the surveyors asked, “How can we ensure that medical schools are fully using the talent pool of a third of its faculty?” Not only that, but how do we ensure that women outside the academic realm also get a hold of these top-ranking positions? Clearly the ambition is there, all that’s missing is an infrastructure in which women can thrive.