Tackling gender disparities in hospital medicine



ORLANDO – If you think enough progress is being made to fix gender disparity in medical leadership, consider this observation made in an HM18 session on Tuesday by speaker Elizabeth Harry, MD, SFHM, assistant program director, internal medicine residency: director of wellness, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.*

“One might say, ‘Well, that’s okay, we’ll just let it even itself out. I mean, it’s getting better and we’re getting more women positions of leadership,’ ” she said. “But if we continue at the current rate that we are at, of women getting positions of leadership, we will get gender parity in leadership in 67 years – so the year 2085 ... I’m hoping that we as a group can say, ‘That’s a little too slow for our taste. We would like to accelerate this process a little bit.’ ”

Dr. Elizabeth Harry, assistant program director of the internal medicine residency program and director of wellness at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston

Dr. Elizabeth Harry

The jarring number came near the start of the “Gender Disparities in Hospital Medicine: Where Do We Stand?” session, in which Dr. Harry explored the ways in which gender disparity manifests itself and coaxed ideas for improvement from the audience.

But that was just one of the jarring numbers. Even though women make up 78% of the health care workforce, only 14% of executive officers are women, Dr. Harry said.

And it’s not that large numbers of women joining the physician workforce is a relatively recent phenomenon. There is close to a 50/50 gender split in medical school applicants, students, and residents. But, after that, the parity falls away. Only 38% of medical school faculty members are women, only 21% of full professors are women, and only 16% of deans (Pediatr Res. 2015 Nov;78[5]:589-93).

“There’s definitely a leaky pipeline here,” Dr. Harry said.

She highlighted the ways in which gender disparity seems to be baked into medical education, research, and culture. One study found that women used professional titles 95% of the time when introducing men at internal medicine grand rounds, compared with 49% when men were introducing women (J Womens Health 2017 May;26[5]:413-9).

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