Another glass ceiling: Women get zero respect when it comes to medical society awards

Women doctors
When it comes to recognition awards, most medical societies don't recognize women physicians.

A new study that looks at who receives recognition awards from medical societies wants to know: Where are all the women?

Turns out there is a zero or near-zero representation of women physicians among recognition award recipients across a range of medical specialties, according to the study published in PM&R, the journal of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R).

Lead author Julie K. Silver, M.D., says the report isn’t really about the awards, it’s about opening doors for women physicians.

Silver and her colleagues started out looking at the recipients of physician recognition awards in the medical society she belongs to, AAPM&R. They found the gender gap was greatest for the most prestigious awards, especially those associated with lectureships. In 40 of the 48 years they reviewed, no women physicians received those awards despite the fact that 1 in 3 physicians in the specialty are women.

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The results weren’t much different when they looked at other medical societies for specialties that included dermatology, neurology, anesthesiology, orthopedic surgery, head and neck surgery and plastic surgery, the study found.

And Silver, an associate professor and the associate chair for strategic initiatives in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, says it is time for that to change. She and the other authors called on medical societies to examine gender diversity and inclusion, look for causes and implement strategies to improve the gender gap.

#DearFutureMD our new report isn't really about awards as much as about opening doors for you. This report explains:

— Julie Silver, MD (@JulieSilverMD) July 18, 2017

Silver also wrote about her frustration in an opinion piece in STAT in which she asked if academic leaders should encourage trainees and faculty members to join these medical societies if they do not equitably support physicians from women and other underrepresented groups. She termed this “mentoring against a closed gate," since no matter their talents they aren't going to be let in.

“I’ve come to believe that mentoring early-career physicians against a closed gate is unethical. Although this highly coveted group of individuals is one that medical societies are keen to engage as members if they are to survive in the future, the majority of early-career physicians in the United States are from underrepresented groups and far too many are struggling with crushing debt. Their mentors, including me, are not serving them well morally or financially by encouraging them to join organizations that will not equitably support them,” she wrote, reiterating the six-part call to action outlined in the study to ensure medical societies tackle workplace disparities. She also encouraged doctors to join a growing group at #SocietiesAsAllies.