Since women were first allowed to enter medical school, we have been waiting with bated breath for the time when there would be equal numbers of men and women enrolled in medical school. This year, for the first time, women outnumber men enrolled in medical school by 0.5%. Although many are touting this as evidence of progress, we should take a thoughtful pause.
For one thing, while numbers of women enrolling in medical school have been rising over time, the numbers of women in leadership roles (ie, chairs, deans, etc.) has not increased in parallel. In fact, women represent only 25% of full professors in academic medicine, 16% of medical school deans, and 18% of department chairs. Given that women have comprised at least 45% of medical school classes for 20 years, this is clearly not a pipeline issue. Additionally, women continue to experience high rates of harassment, bias and pay inequity, leading to more women than men leaving medicine.
Even though there are roughly equal numbers of men and women in medical school now, there are still significant racial and ethnic inequities. For example, enrollment of African Americans rose by 3.2% this year (1,916 matriculants out of 21,869!), and although the AAMC statement highlights a 5.5% increase in American Indian/Alaska Native matriculants, the absolute number of these students is a dismal 230. That we do not even keep track of LGBTQ+folx or future #DocsWithDisabilities is also telling.
At the end of the day, 50.5% of women enrolled in medical schools does not mean we have achieved equity when women are not equitably represented in leadership and subspecialties, and racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+folx, #DocsWithDisabilities and other underrepresented groups (including intersectional women who belong to one or more underrepresented groups), are struggling to be seen anywhere in medicine and leadership. It is a milestone to celebrate, of course, but as a black woman physician, it is a reminder that our work is not done yet, and we should not rest until the people delivering health care and making decisions reflect the diversity of the patients we care for.
Association of American Medical Colleges. The Majority of U.S. Medical Students Are Women, New Data Show. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/press-releases/majority-us-medical-students-are-women-new-data-show. Accessed December 2019.
Association of American Medical Colleges. Where are all the women deans? https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/where-are-all-women-deans. Accessed December 2019.
Association of American Medical Colleges. Why women leave medicine, https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/why-women-leave-medicine. Accessed December 2019.
Jasmine R. Marcelin, MD, FACP
Assistant professor of infectious diseases
Associate program director, internal medicine residency
Associate medical director, antimicrobial stewardship program
University of Nebraska Medical Center
Disclosures: Marcelin reports no relevant financial disclosures.