The Gender Gap in Healthcare—Our Stories Behind the Statistics

I was shocked by the experiences Linda Brodsky MD shared when she spoke at an AAUW event about gender discrimination in her medical profession. She’s become a crusader for women in medicine–you’ll see why in this guest post, and we should all cheer her on. Be sure to check out her blog and share your story with her.

Today women comprise more than 50% of medical students, 40% of resident trainees and by the end of 2010, 30% of physicians. Could it be that we’re finally closing the gender gap in medicine? No. And nothing is further from the truth. Until women decision and policy makers are leading the discussion at the table (or on the bench), women will not become impactful leaders soon enough, contrary to what these overly optimistic statistics suggest.

From the halls of medical academia to the editorial boards of medical journals, from the ranks of organized medicine to the NIH committees that judge research worthiness, the number of women are much fewer than they should be. Where are all the women leaders?

In medical schools, where curricular standards are set and eager future physicians are choosing and training in their fields, 88% of deans are men as are 90% of chairs of clinical departments. An astonishing 83% of medical journal editorial board positions are male dominated. These doctors decide what is worthy of publication, and only when this research is judged in a blinded fashion does women’s work gain as much recognition and publication as men’s. Unfortunately, most journals do not practice gender blind reviews. Bias in NIH research awards is well recognized and women medical scientists are funded less frequently and less generously. And the stunning lack of women leaders in organized medicine skews the way our elected officials are advised as to the concerns of physicians about healthcare delivery.

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gloria

For the average woman doctor, 85% will have encountered gender discrimination and/or sexual harassment at least once during her career. She will earn only 63 cents on the dollar that a male physician (after all variables are controlled for) and she will likely be segregated into clinical areas that have less prestige and earning potential. Talented women doctors are becoming second class citizens in their own profession. And when valuable human resources are marginalized, everyone suffers. Diminishing the worth of women physicians is a loss that our ailing healthcare system can ill afford.

Women account for 51% of the population, make 75% of the healthcare decisions in American households, spend two of every three dollars in healthcare, and account for 60% of physician visits and medication prescriptions. How are we treated as consumers and caregivers of families? First, screening for serious illness is less likely if your physician is a man. And when women present with a problem, it is too often unrecognized, misdiagnosed or undertreated, as has been highlighted by the many misconceptions about heart disease in women. Women are less likely to be offered cardiac catheterization and are more likely to die after a heart attack. In our society, 50% of workers are women, and 50% of workers who work more than one job are women. On the most basic level for the common good of all, productivity of our workforce is seriously compromised by these sorry circumstances.

It is not a matter of if but how the gender gap in medicine directly affects you. Your story is important. I am soliciting stories about the gender gap in healthcare from women, from men, from doctors, from healthcare workers, from patients, and from caregivers. Take the time and share your experiences and insights with me (www.lindabrodskymd.com), so together we can affect change to this serious healthcare problem.

About Linda:
Dr. Linda Brodsky was a woman who thought she had it all: family, friends and a career of international proportions. She spent 25 years building a well-respected department at the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. She also became the first women ever, in any surgical department to be promoted to tenured full professor of otolaryngology and pediatrics at the State University of New York at Buffalo. At the top of her career, she became aware of information that led her to believe that her she was a victim of gender discrimination, and she spent the next 10 years fighting her way through a legal labyrinth. Since the resolution of her legal battles in 2007 and 2008, she is devoting her energies to changing the status quo for the next generation of women physicians.

4 Comments

  1. Gloria Feldt on July 22, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    Linda, I found your data absolutely astonishing. What organized efforts are there to bring parity to women in medicine and to eradicate the harassment and discrimination?

  2. Linda Brodsky on July 24, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Gloria, thank you for asking an important question. Early in my journey for gender equity, I found the AAUW (www.aauw.org) to be extremely supportive of individual litigants, such as myself, who had the courage and resources (internal and external) to take a claim to court. They provided some funding, but more importantly, they provided emotional support and practical advice.

    Organized medicine, such as the AMA and the American College of Surgeon, has worked with women through their Women Physician’s Congress and The Association of Women Surgeons (www.womensurgeons.org) to bring some of these issues to light. A very revealing report from the AMA in 2008 highlights some of the facts that I have shared with your readers. The American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, of which I am a member, took a huge step last year when we voted that gender discrimination is an ethics violation of academy rules. Implementation is still a challenge, but we recognize that we have to (and will) face these challenges.

    While these organizations have begun laying the foundation to recognize and address the gender gap, there still remains much to be done. The burden is on the individual who has to report the problem and seek redress. This is a huge burden that most will not want to take on for fear of loss of career or retaliation.

    I have embarked on my journey to bring these personal stories to light. Awareness is the first step towards change. I am committed to offering concrete suggestions for change that would benefit our patients, the healthcare system and protect the women doctors in whom we as a society have invested our resources and in whom we invest our trust for our health and well being.

  3. anonymous on August 5, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    your all just a bunch of cumdumpsters

    TITS OR GTFO

  4. Gloria Feldt on August 7, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Hmmm. I usually delete abusive posts such as the one above from anonymous, but in this case it is such a good example of the sexism and sexist bias that still exists, I think I’ll let it stand and speak for its despicable self.

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