Intended for healthcare professionals


Medical research lags behind in gender equality, say researchers

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 15 March 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i1553
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. limb{at}

Despite more women being employed in medicine, research still “lags behind” in gender equality, a survey has found.

The Royal College of Physicians surveyed around 2000 UK doctors and found that men and women were equally likely to be employed in a research role.1 However, if not formally employed in a research role, women were less likely than men to engage in research in addition to their regular clinical duties, with only 29% doing so compared with 43% of men.

It said, “Data from the 2013-14 workforce census showed that more than half of consultants under 35 are women which indicates growing gender equality in the medical profession as a whole. However, the data from the survey showed that research engagement lags behind in this respect.”

The online survey, carried out in April and May 2015 among doctors across all specialties and career stages, found that it was harder for women than men to fit research in with family life. It said, “Women are less likely than men to be able to accommodate research around their clinical demands, with a common comment being that the culture of research still feels like a ‘boys’ club’.”

The college recommended that trusts and universities adopt employment policies that let employees move between NHS and university employment without losing benefits that are contingent on the length of service. This is a particular issue in respect of parental leave, it said, and there had been reports that the loss of maternity benefits was a factor deterring some women from going into research.

The survey also found that time and funding were the biggest barriers to physicians wanting to undertake research. Many doctors also said that they needed more services tailored to their needs.

The college said that the government must ensure that medical research funding is maintained and that research is “never seen as an easy target for spending cuts.”

Report author Margaret Johnson, who is the college’s academic vice president, said that supporting physicians was a key priority. “It is a real shame that the main barrier to more doctors engaging in research is having the time to do so,” she said.

“We know patients in research active institutions have better outcomes than those in other institutions and are more likely to benefit from earlier access to new treatments, technologies, and approaches. “We need to move more research to the bedside, so that more NHS patients can enjoy these improved outcomes.”