Academic medicine: time for reinvention

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7430.46-a (Published 01 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:46

Academic medicine is failing women

  1. Anita Holdcroft, reader in anaesthesia (a.holdcroft{at}imperial.ac.uk)
  1. Magill Department of Anaesthesia, Imperial College London, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London SW10 9NH

    EDITOR—The question “Why is academic medicine failing?” could be rephrased “Why is academic medicine failing women?”1 One reason is the recruitment and retention of senior female academics, and the other is the application of gender issues to medical research.

    The failure of academic medicine to come to terms with clinical workforce interests and population healthcare issues is exemplified by the role and aspirations of female students, potential female clinical scientists, and women as patients. Recognition of the high quality skills of female science students and their subsequent loss during early postgraduate years has led to a reappraisal of the culture of a male dominated hierarchy in universities.2 The same process has yet to be applied to medicine.

    What exclusions are academic medical women facing, and to what extent does this impact on the crisis in academic medicine, where men dominate and the NHS is an alternative employer? The obstacles of childrearing are very clear. It is a myth that great discoveries are made by scientists before the age of 40 years. The biological clock for women may be different; “life starts at 40 years” may be an attitude to consider.

    Today's female doctors are demanding improved working conditions, better equity, and less hierarchy at work. They see their female counterparts in academic medicine with fewer resources and awards, less space, and lower salaries than male doctors. A BMA working paper identifies the monitoring tools required to support equity in the workforce and considers that a fair representation of women in scientific institutions can bring benefits to academic medicine.3

    If women continue to be excluded in the university system, as the evidence from science faculties suggests, academic medicine will be unable to meet the challenges of medicine in the 21st century.


    • Competing interests None declared.


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