Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Gender and academic medicine: impacts on the health workforce

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 30 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:792
  1. Laura Reichenbach, research scientist (,
  2. Hilary Brown, programme coordinator2
  1. 1 Harvard Centre for Population and Development Studies, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA
  2. 2 Rockefeller Foundation, New York, NY 10018, USA
  1. Correspondence to: L Reichenbach

    Recent discussions about the “feminisation of medicine” raise critical questions for how academic medicine deals with gender issues. Addressing the gender dimensions of enrolment, curriculum, and promotion practices in academic medicine may be a good starting point


    To be effective, the campaign to revitalise academic medicine must address the gender dimensions of how doctors are selected, trained, and promoted. Existing research on gender and academic medicine has primarily examined the role of female physicians, the “feminisation of medicine,”1 2 3 and the needs of female patients.4 Although these are important, they do not represent the spectrum of gender dimensions affecting academic medicine and the range of challenges facing decision makers. Furthermore, issues of gender and academic medicine also concern developing countries around the world.

    Academic medicine has the opportunity to improve the quantity and quality of the health workforce as a means of strengthening the broader health system. To support this approach, the field must recognise that healthcare providers are not a homogeneous group but individuals facing choices throughout their careers that influence their selection of specialty and where and how they provide health care. Gender plays an important role in this decision process. The concept of gender is rooted in societal beliefs about the appropriate roles and activities of men and women and in the behaviours and status that result from those beliefs.5 We believe that the goal is not just ensuring equal numbers of men and women (gender equality) but also guaranteeing fairness and justice in the professional opportunity structure (gender equity).

    Academic medicine must address the gender dimensions of enrolment, curriculum, and promotion to have a positive impact on human resources for health around the world. “Human resources for health” refers to the range of personnel that deliver the public health, clinical, and environmental …

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