According to current estimates, women now make up half of all graduates of medical schools in the United States. Despite this progress, studies suggest that sex disparities persist with regard to women achieving senior faculty ranks in academic medicine. Studies have found that female physicians constitute about 38% of full-time medical school faculty, but only 21% are full professors and even fewer are department chairs or deans. In addition, male physician researchers historically have earned more than female researchers, even after adjusting for differences in academic productivity.
Few studies have linked data on physician training, specialty, experience, research funding, clinical trial participation, and scientific authorship. “These factors can all influence faculty rank and may vary by sex,” says Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD. It is possible that sex differences in faculty rank may still exist even after adjusting for various other factors.
For a study published in JAMA, Dr. Jena and colleagues analyzed sex differences in faculty rank using a comprehensive cross-sectional database of more than 91,000 physicians in the United States in 2014. The database included detailed information on sex, age, years since residency completion, specialty, scientific authorship, NIH research funding, and clinical trial participation. According to the findings, slightly more than 30,000 women were medical faculty, compared with more than 60,000 men.
The study group found that 28.6% of men had full-professor appointments, compared with a rate of 11.9% for women, and women were less likely than men to have achieved full-professor status, even after adjusting for other variables. Sex-differences in full professorship were present across all specialties and did not vary according to whether a physician’s medical school was ranked highly in terms of research funding. Women faculty tended to be younger and disproportionately represented in internal medicine and pediatrics.
The investigation also revealed that men had a higher total average of publications than women (24.8 vs 11.6, respectively). Men were the first or last author of their publication an average of 13.7 times total, compared with an average of 5.9 for women. Among the 9.1% of medical faculty with an NIH grant in the study, 6.8% were women and 10.3% were men. In all, 6.4% of women and 8.8% of men had a trial registered on ClinicalTrials.gov.
A Persisting Issue
According to Dr. Jena, the study further supports the notion that there appear to be sex differences in academic faculty rank among physicians with faculty appointments at U.S. medical schools. “Women are substantially less likely than men to be full professors, even after one accounts for differences in age, experience, specialty, and measures of research productivity,” he says. “This research highlights the need for interventions to address barriers to promotion. Each institution should assess its own transparency on policies and requirements for promoting physicians and strive to be as clear as possible.” The study notes that a distinct set of strategies may be necessary to alleviate sex differences in promotion from associate to full professor.