Gender imbalance persists at teaching hospitals

Academic medical centers suffer from a major gender gap that will only continue to grow unless leaders acknowledge the problem, according to commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Gender imbalances persist throughout the healthcare industry as indicated by a widening wage gap and underrepresentation of women in clinical research trials, which can endanger women's health.

But JAMA research also reveals that women at teaching hospitals are 16.7 percentage points less likely to be full professors than men, write Carrie Byington, M.D., and Vivian Lee, M.D., Ph.D., both of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The imbalance remains even after the researchers adjusted for age and experience. For example, among study subjects who finished their residencies in 1980, 53 percent of women did not advance beyond assistant or associate professorships more than 30 years later, compared to 40 percent of men, and 2012 research finds women are more likely to retire at this level as well.  

To fix the problem, the authors write that leaders must first acknowledge there is a problem. Then, they recommend leaders receive training in implicit bias management, similar to proposed solutions for outcomes disparities among black and LGBT patients. Leaders at teaching hospitals must also review their promotion and tenure process for any inequities, the authors write, and consider potential adjustments that encourage flexibility such as paid parental leave.

"As the training ground for future generations of healthcare providers and biomedical scientists, academic medical centers should ensure that their students, faculty, and staff represent the people they serve and that all can contribute to their fullest potential," they write. "It is time for academic medicine to move forward."

To learn more:
- read the commentary
- here's the JAMA study abstract