February 26, 2021
Changes Needed to Advance Women in Medicine as Unequal Treatment Persists
- There are fewer female doctors than male doctors, but with more women entering medical school that could soon change
- Dr. Nina Shah, a leading voice in cancer care, says that women are still underrepresented as lead authors in medical research
- According to Dr. Shah, increasing equality and respect for female doctors can lead to more positive and productive interactions
While male doctors still outnumber female doctors in the United States, the demographic is changing. In 2019, women made up 50.5% of medical school students. Some 80% of doctors age 65 and older are men, who may soon be retiring. In a few years, women may begin to dominate the medical profession. For now, they just want equal treatment from their colleagues.
“I want to read things that are presented and researched by women, which is actually very underrepresented in industry trials,” Dr. Nina Shah, hematologist-oncologist at UCSF Health, tells SurvivorNet Connect. “If you look at any conference you’ll see, by and large, the first author for a lot of these high-profile abstracts and publications are men.”
A 2016 study found that only 37% of first authors in high-profile medical journals were female. Dr. Shah encourages her colleagues to make research more equitable. “I really challenge our industry partners to go 50-50 in picking their investigators,” she says. “One of the reasons why I’ve been so active about trying to mentor women and also promote educational resources for women and leadership growth resources for women is because I think we need to all do this together.”
Respect is another aspect of practice where women fall behind. “I’ve noticed when I interact with industry and I’ll be on these web calls, they’ll call me by my first name but my colleagues by doctor,” she says. “I don’t mind being called Nina, but it is a different level of respect.” Giving physicians equal treatment, whether in regard to their gender or race, will lead to “a more productive interaction,” she adds.