Women's Health 2011: The 19th Annual Congress
In response to previous research, many medical schools have developed programs to recruit women, which has led to a substantial increase in women attending U.S. medical schools. However, simply increasing participation has not eliminated gender bias in either the curriculum or the treatment of women medical students. Through an in-depth analysis of self-reported experiences of women physicians, this research identifies areas for improving medical education in order to increase the delivery of quality health care for women.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 25 practicing women physicians from multiple specialties. Topics included womens health curriculum, preparedness for interaction with female patients, harassment and discrimination, mentorship, and overall experiences. Responses were coded into thematic categories including gender role assumptions, marginalities in womens health, medical hierarchy, and mentorship programs.
Societal gender role assumptions significantly impact women physicians experiences as medical students, in practice, and as primary care givers. Marginalities in womens health education exist in all levels of medical training. Curriculum specific to reproductive and psychiatric womens health impacts physicians preparedness for treating female patients. Physicians reported the existence of a medical hierarchy during training and in practice. Eight physicians reported having experienced or witnessed sexual harassment during their medical training. Despite the prevalence of mentorship programs random assignment of mentors and students detracted from the meaningfulness of such programs.
The construction of gender impacts multiple levels of medical culture including undergraduate and graduate curricula, delivery of health care, and womens overall advancement in the field. Despite these findings, the majority of the women physicians participating in this study spoke very highly of their medical training and recognized that progress has been made. Greater support from medical institutions and education programs to establish gender equitable environments will ensure diverse opportunities for women in the field as well as comprehensive womens medical care.