New Study of Doctors Receiving Professional Awards Shows a Glaring Absence of Women Recipients

Boston, MA – Harvard Medical School Faculty at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network published a new study in the journal American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AJPM&R) titled “Women Physicians Are Underrepresented in Recognition Awards from the Association of Academic Physiatrists.” This is the second study in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) to demonstrate an underrepresentation of women physician award recipients and the first-of-its-kind in any medical specialty to study academic physicians specifically. The study involved a review of twenty-seven years’ worth of data from Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP). The list contained all major recognition award recipients from 1990 to 2016 with a total of 85 individual awards presented to physicians. No awards were given to women physician for the past four years (2013-2016) or in half the award categories for the past decade (2007-2016). Concerningly, no woman physician received the outstanding resident/fellow award since its inception (2010-2016). There was a decrease in the proportion of awards given to women in the past decade (2007-2016, 7 of 39 awards, 17.9%) as compared with the first 17 years (1990-2006, 10 of 46 awards, 21.7%). In contrast, the proportion of full-time female physician faculty in PM&R was 38% in 1992 and increased to 41% in 2013.

The findings where there were zero women physician award recipients were particularly compelling and the researchers referred to a concept that has been used by American courts, including the Supreme Court, called an “inexorable zero” to discuss the findings in this report. The authors have been using recognition awards as a rubric to measure the ability of women physicians to navigate key resources needed for career advancement that are provided by medical specialty societies. Among other things, medical specialty societies own or control medical journals, scientific speaking opportunities, leadership training and leadership positions on task forces, committees and boards.

A previous study by the same group of researchers that was published in the journal PM&R and titled “Female Physicians Are Underrepresented in Recognition Awards from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation” found that over a forty-eight-year period the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) women physicians received only 15.9% of the awards. A key finding was that they were the most underrepresented for prestigious lectureship awards in which they would be able to speak at a national conference—offering their insights and opinions to an audience of colleagues. The study found that women received lectureships in 8 of the 48 years studied.

The lead author on both studies, Julie K. Silver, MD, is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and the Associate Chair for Strategic Initiatives for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. Dr. Silver says, “In this study we demonstrated that the underrepresentation of women physicians as recognition award recipients was not limited to one medical society but was a bigger problem within the specialty. As we focus on reducing physician burnout and patient health disparities, we need to understand that both of these critical issues are related to how well we can support our entire workforce. We hope that our research will be a wake-up call for physician supported societies to use metrics that include, but also extend beyond recognition awards, to assess diversity and inclusion--not just for women but for all physicians.”

There are many documented gender gap disparities for physicians in academia including pay and promotions. This study highlights the role of medical societies as gatekeepers to crucial resources that doctors need to advance in their careers and identifies a glaring gap for women physicians.

Walter Frontera, MD, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of the journal AJPM&R, said, “These researchers have brought to the forefront a salient but neglected issue in addressing gender disparities. This is an important issue in academic institutions and professional organizations, and we need to encourage research that investigates physician workforce diversity and inclusion in both. Future efforts should be like what leaders are actively working on in medical schools and academic medical centers to address pay, promotion and other disparities.”

The researchers—including 5 men and 6 women who are all affiliated with Harvard Medical School—intend to publish further reports that explore the unique challenges and barriers for underrepresented physicians. The researchers also plan on working collaboratively with physician colleagues throughout the U.S. and national medical societies to establish and implement metrics that focus on measuring diversity and inclusion.

About Spaulding Rehabilitation Network

A member of Partners HealthCare, the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network includes Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, its main campus in Charlestown as well as Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Cape Cod, Spaulding Hospital Cambridge and two skilled nursing facilities, as well as twenty-five outpatient sites throughout Eastern Massachusetts. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report named Spaulding a “Top Five” rehabilitation hospital in the nation. Spaulding is one of the few hospitals in the U.S. to be awarded the prestigious Model Systems designation in all three areas of care—Spinal Cord Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Burn Injury—selected by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research. A teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, Spaulding has been recognized for fostering the #1 residency program in the country for research output by Doximity Residency Navigator. For more information, please visit www.spauldingrehab.org.

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