Women in medicine: What’s to celebrate?

September was Celebrate Women in Medicine month, according to the American Medical Association’s Women Physicians Congress.

The AMA-WPC consists of more than 67,000 female members of the AMA working to increase the number and influence of women physicians in leadership roles—and to advocate for and advance the understanding of women’s health issues.

I missed it by one day, but I still want in on the celebration.

Did you know that  48 percent of students graduating from medical school in the US are women? That women make up 70 percent of medical and health service managers? And that 98 percent of nurses are women?  It almost makes me wonder if men are in decline.

Actually, no. It doesn’t.

I have no doubt that men are certainly not in decline. Back in the bad old days, women were nurses and men were doctors. Today, a third of all women are doctors, and women are still nurses. But the big dogs? They’re men.

Dr. Danielle Ofri wrote about this recently:

While women make up about half of all medical students and a third of academic faculty, they are nearly absent in the upper ranks. A recent review in The Journal of General Internal Medicine showed that only 4 percent of full professors are women. Only 12 percent of department chiefs are women. In the survey, men and women were engaged in their work to a similar degree, and both groups had comparable aspirations for leadership roles.

It’s a sobering realization for female medical students.

An article published in the Journal of Human Capital this summer compared the earnings of male and female primary-care physicians and estimated what they would have earned if they had been Physician Assistants (PA). The study found that while most male doctors are financially better off for having become a doctor, most female primary care physicians would have made more money as a PA.

Let’s celebrate women in medicine. But let’s also think about ways to change institutions and structures so that these wage gaps and persistent inequalities do not persist.


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