Even though women now make up half of all U.S. medical school graduates, they remain much less likely than men to get research funding or become professors in medicine, two studies suggest.
Nationwide, men outnumbered women on U.S. medical school faculties by two to one last year, and men edged out women by almost five to one in achieving senior posts as full professors, according to one of the studies published in JAMA.
Women also appear to receive far less financial support for biomedical research early in their academic careers, a separate study of applications to one New England foundation suggests.
The studies serve as a reminder that the potential of women in medicine, like their peers in many other professions, has not been fully realized, Dr. Carrie Bylington of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City argues in an accompanying editorial. To represent the diverse communities they serve, academic medical centers should champion diversity among their students, faculty and staff, she writes.
"At least two major roadblocks lead to gender disparities in academic medicine," said Dr. Anupam Jena, a health policy researcher at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
"First, institutional resources, mentorship and biases generally favor men over women, hence making it harder for women in academic medicine to be as productive in research," Jena, lead author of the study of medical school faculties, said by email.
"Second, even when men and women are equally productive - at least measured by publications, NIH grants, years of experience and clinical trials - there are still sex differences in promotions," Jena added.
To evaluate the gender divide for medical school faculty, Jena and colleagues reviewed data on roughly 30,000 female and 61,000 male professors, representing about 9 percent of doctors nationwide.
Among their ranks, about 3,600 women and 17,000 men were full professors, posts that typically come with more leadership opportunities and higher salaries than junior faculty positions.
Female faculty members were also less likely to receive grant funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and run clinical trials recorded in the U.S. registry for research studies.
Women also lagged men in published research, the study found.
One limitation of the study is that it lacked data needed to explore whether more women might have opted for clinical faculty positions that may be less likely than research-oriented posts to lead to full professorships, the authors acknowledge. Researchers may have also had incomplete data on published research, particularly for people who changed their names mid-career due to marriage, the authors note.
A separate study in JAMA today took a closer look at the gender gap in biomedical research funding by reviewing grant applications to one foundation, Health Resources in Action in Boston, from 219 junior faculty members.
Men in the study typically reported having more than twice as much funding from their employers to purchase equipment and set up their labs - half the men received at least $889,000 compared with a median for women of just $350,000.
Forty percent of men received more than $1,000,000 to launch their research efforts, compared to only 12 percent of women.
While the study is small, and only covers applications from people at five institutions, it likely highlights a widespread problem that merits more analysis on a larger scale, said lead author Dr. Robert Sege, vice president of Health Resources in Action.
The study is one of the first to look at the institutional support that scientists get at the beginning of their career. "They need support to buy microscopes or DNA sequencers, they need lab space, they need technicians," Sege said.
The unequal allocation of early career resources may contribute to fewer women rising through the ranks to become full professors, said Bylington, who authored an editorial accompanying the studies in JAMA.
"The result of this failure to progress is that we have fewer women in leadership roles and fewer women to serve as mentors to the next generation of physician scientists," Bylington said by email.