Women in Medicine: how far have we come?

Women in Medicine: how far have we come?

Anees B. Chagpar, MD, MPH, MBA, MSc, MA, FACS, FRCS, FASCO

Nov 13, 2010

I was reading the Yale Daily News the other day, and came across an interesting piece on women in medicine. Women have come a long way in terms of equality in entering medical school, with nearly half of most medical school classes being made up of women. But it was somewhat concerning when you start to look further at trends in terms of faculty ranks. At Yale, women make up 40.4% of the faculty, but only 35% of the professors. Perhaps some of this is historic bias, and some may be related to the choices women make in terms of lifestyle vs. career, but you wonder how much of it is systemic. I must say that while I would love to see more women as professors (especially as I rapidly approach that threshold), I’m not sure I agree with the concept that there is a “culture of exclusion . . . that men tend to run things and they don’t include women in the ‘old boys club.’”

While some may claim that academia suffers from the same exclusionary behavior as politics, citing events like women not being invited to play in the high-level basketball game at the White House last year (www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/us/politics/25vibe.html), I would argue that there are an abundance of enlightened men in the world who are dedicated to furthering the careers of young people regardless of gender, in both academia and in politics.

While I know that some medical students hesitate about entering surgical careers because they are girls, and we have yet to have a female president, I still feel like we live in reasonably enlightened times when it comes to gender. If you look at the list of ASCO Past Presidents, it is clear that the majority have been men...but then again, there has been (particularly in recent years) a good representation of women as well. And when you look to the future, the women have it in spades! In the inaugural ASCO Leadership Development Program class, women outnumbered men by 6:4; last year it was an even split.

So, while some may lament the plight of women in medicine, I for one am celebrating! There were a lot of people who laid the groundwork for women to be considered equal to men, and I think now more than ever, women are taking their rightful place as equals to men among the leadership ranks in academic and professional organizations.


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