Policy/Biz

The Boy's Club Of Science: Most New Doctors Are Women, But Sexism Keeps Them Away From The Lab

Women Underrepresented Among Medical Researchers
Although women account for a slight majority of new doctors, only 15 percent of medical researchers are women. Shutterstock.com

Although now a slim majority of new doctors, women remain vastly underrepresented in academic medicine as discriminatory practices and unconscious biases keep them closer to the bedside and away from the research bench.

Similar to trends in the United States and other developed countries, the proportion of women entering medical school in the United Kingdom has risen to 53 percent, following a steady rise during the past few decades. However, only 15 percent of medical researchers in the UK are women, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Aside from merely limiting the dreams of girls and young women, the discrepancy threatens investiture in public health by wasting potential academic talent as some medical mysteries continue to lack for attention, according to study leader Jonathan Grant, director of the Policy Institute at King's College London.

"There has been a longstanding gender imbalance in clinical academia as well as laboratory-based basic medical sciences,” Grant said in a press release. "This inequality increases substantially with seniority, with women representing only 15 percent of professors in UK medical schools."

The medical field should be fairly flush with experienced women doctors suitable for professorships and research positions, given the continuing rise of women in the profession. Since 1970, the proportion of U.S. physicians who are women rose from 9.7 percent to 33.4 percent with women in recent years achieving a majority among medical school students, too.

To remediate this imbalance, Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer and professor at the university, suggests policymakers consider flexible scheduling for medical scientists. “The system needs to be reformed by medical schools improving the culture for and chances of women in clinical academia,” she said in the press release. “The adoption and embedding of gender neutral policies, for example flexible working, will be of benefit to all clinical academics whether women or men."

Still, such ideas about equal opportunity are to say nothing about the pay gap. Harvard University economist Lawrence Katz told The Wall Street Journal a couple of years ago says a sizeable pay gap between men and women in medicine might be explained by individual choices, with women taking taking lower career tracks as well as flexible time for childrearing and family responsibilities. In 2012, women physicians in the U.S. made $112,000 compared to an average income of $186,000 for men.

Source: Penny M, Jeffries R, Grant J, et al. Women and academic medicine: a review of the evidence on female representation. The Royal Society of Medicine. 2014.

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