Underrepresentation of Women Doctors Receiving Professional Awards & Lectureships Examined in New Study

April 25, 2017 | Boston, MA – Harvard Medical School Faculty at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network published a new study in the journal PM&R titled “Female Physicians Are Underrepresented in Recognition Awards from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.” This first-of-its-kind study involved a review of forty-eight years worth of data from American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R). The list contained all major recognition award recipients from 1968 to 2015 with a total of 264 individual awards presented to physicians. A key finding was that over the measured span only 15.9% of recipients for awards were female physicians despite women making up more than 30% of the specialty for decades. Women physicians 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. While within the last ten years the percentage of overall women physician recipients increased to 26%, this was still well under the marker for those in the specialty—today approximately 35% of physicians in the specialty are women.

The lead author on the study, 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, “Recognition awards represent far more than a simple trophy. In this study, we used recognition awards as a rubric to look at how women physicians have been able to navigate resources for career advancement at a medical specialty society. Our findings should be investigated further as the future of healthcare depends on our ability to support a diverse workforce.”

The visibility tied to major awards recognition and accompanying lectureships from leading professional physician organizations such as AAPM&R are key factors for physician professional advancement. The study contends that the underrepresentation in awards also limits female physician opportunities in leadership positions, as they are not afforded the same opportunities as their colleagues. Another finding was that female physicians when awarded were more likely to be selected as part of a group than as an individual which can portend to reinforcing cultural and gender biases.

Stuart Weinstein, MD, Editor-in-Chief of the journal PM&R, said, “Even in medicine, women’s achievements are often overlooked. Let’s learn from this. It’s time to change the trend.”

The researchers—including 4 men and 4 women who are all physicians at Harvard Medical School—acknowledge that they intend to publish further reports that explore the unique challenges and barriers for female physicians. The researchers also plan on working collaboratively with AAPM&R to ensure a more equitable process to enhance major award opportunities for female physicians going forward.

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.

Media Contacts

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