A recent study from Oxford University published in the Lancet has explored why university medical departments were staffed predominantly with men, despite the increasing numbers of women entering medical schools. Their results suggest that without more exposure to research during their training and education, women are less likely to consider a career in academia.
The authors considered several popularly-cited reasons that women do not pursue careers in the medical academia, including family and caring responsibilities. Importantly, they found that these are not the crux of the issue- their evidence did not support the hypothesis that “financial considerations and work-life balance deter women from a research career”. Instead, the study found that women needed “hands-on research experience and positive role models” in order to start considering a life of academic medicine.
Experiencing research in medicine can be difficult for both women and men. Doctors at all levels of seniority have competing demands on their time, including clinical work, teaching, governance and research. It is near-on impossible for anyone, male or female, to be exceptional in all these components simultaneously! However, if there is to be an improvement in female representation in academic medicine there needs to be more opportunities for women to experience research.
The study implored medical schools and teaching hospitals to examine their own research programmes and consider how they may be affected by unconscious gender bias. Only by addressing these issues will we be able to increase female representation in fields outside of clinical medicine.