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Women Physicians

Historically and in many parts of the world, women's participation in the profession of medicine (as physicians, for instance) has been significantly restricted, although women's practice of medicine, informally, in the role of caregivers has been widespread. Most countries of the world now guarantee equal access by women to medical education, although not all ensure equal employment opportunities and gender parity has yet to be achieved within the medical specialties and around the world.

Women's participation in the medical professions was limited by law and practice during the decades while medicine was organizing as a profession. However, women continued to practice medicine in the allied health fields (nursing, midwifery, etc.), and throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women made significant gains in access to medical education and medical work through much of the world. These gains were sometimes tempered by setbacks; for instance, Mary Roth Walsh documented a decline in women physicians in the US in the first half of the twentieth century, such that there were fewer women physicians in 1950 than there were in 1900. However, through the latter half of the twentieth century, women had gains generally across the board. In the United States, for instance, women were 9% of total US medical school enrollment in 1969; this had increased to 20% in 1976. By 1985, women comprised 14% of practicing US physicians.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century in industrialized nations, women have made significant gains, but have yet to achieve parity throughout the medical profession. Women have achieved parity in medical school in some industrialized countries, since 2003 forming the majority of the United States medical student body. In 2007-2008, women accounted for 49% of medical school applicants and 48.3% of those accepted.

However, the practice of medicine remains disproportionately male overall. In industrialized nations, the recent parity in gender of medical students has not yet trickled into parity in practice. In many developing nations, neither medical school nor practice approach gender parity. Moreover, there are skews within the medical profession: some medical specialties, such as surgery, are significantly male-dominated, while other specialties are significantly female-dominated, or are becoming so. In the United States, female physicians outnumber male physicians in pediatrics and female residents outnumber male residents in family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pathology, and psychiatry.

Biomedical research and academic medical professions -- i.e., faculty at medical schools -- are also disproportionately male. Research on this issue, called the "leaky pipeline" by the National Institutes of Health and other researchers, shows that while women have achieved parity with men in entering graduate school, a variety of discrimination causes them to drop out at each stage in the academic pipeline: graduate school, postdoc, faculty positions, achieving tenure; and, ultimately, in receiving recognition for groundbreaking work.

Organizations exist for women in medicine. Several of the more prominent groups:

American Medical Women's Association

The American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) is an organization which functions at the local, national, and international level to advance women in medicine and improve women's health. We achieve this by providing and developing leadership, advocacy, education, expertise, mentoring, and through building strategic alliances.

The American Medical Women's Association is an organization of women physicians, medical students and other persons dedicated to serving as the unique voice for women's health and the advancement of women in medicine. The organization was founded by Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen in 1915 in Chicago, at a time when women physicians were an under-represented minority. As women in medicine increase in numbers, new problems and issues arise that were not anticipated. AMWA has been addressing these issues for 95 years.

Association of Black Women Physicians

The Association of Black Women Physicians is an organized network of Black women physicians committed to the improvement of public health and welfare, through the advancement of knowledge concerning women and the community health. We serve as a philanthropic source of funds to individuals and projects related to the health concerns of the Black community. We endeavor to enhance the personal and professional quality of life of present and future Black women physicians.

American Medical Association, the Women Physicians Congress (WPC)

The Women Physicians Congress (WPC), a specialty group within the American Medical Association, Mission:

  • Increase the number, voice, and influence of women physicians.
  • Provide a forum for women in medicine mentoring and leadership development.
  • Advance advocacy and understanding of women’s health issues.
  • Enhance professional options for balancing family/career responsibilities.
  • Work through the AMA-WPC State and Specialty Society Liaisons to accomplish our goals.

There are many interesting websites about women in medicine.

  1. Exhibit that came to ECU’s Laupus Health Sciences Library in 2007(April 29th through May 28th). Information about the exhibit
  2. Drexel University’s digital collection about women physicians
  3. AMA website timeline
  4. NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers
  5. Association of American Medical College's (AAMC) Women in Medicine Homepage

Women Physician Specialty Groups, from the AMA website

American Association of Women Emergency Physicians

P.O. Box 619911
Dallas, TX 75261-991
(800) 798-1822

American Association for Women Radiologists

4550 Post Oak Place, Suite 342
Houston, TX 77027

American College of Gastroenterology- Women in Gastroenterology Committee

PO Box 342260
Bethesda, MD 20827-2260
(301) 263-9000

American Medical Women's Association

100 North 20th Street, Suite 400
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 320-3716

Association of Women Surgeons

5204 Fairmount Avenue, #208
Downers Grove, IL 60515
(630) 655-0392

Committee on Women's Involvement in American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology

555 East Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 272-6071

National Osteopathic Women Physicians Association (NOWPA)

ATSU-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine
800 West Jackson
Kirksville, MO 63501

Women's Dermatologic Society

74 New Montgomery Street, Suite 230
San Francisco, CA 94105

Women in Neurosurgery

c/o American Association of Neurological Surgeons
5550 Meadowbrook Drive
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008

Women in Endocrinology

Andrea Gore, PhD
1 University Station A1915
PHAR- Pharmacology
Austin, TX 78712

Society of Women in Urology

1111 N. Plaza Drive, Suite 550
Schaumburg, IL 60173
(847) 517-7225

Women in Ophthalmology, Inc. (WIO)

PO Box 193940
San Francisco, CA 94119
(415) 561-8523

Women in Thoracic Surgery

ECU Libraries Materials on Women Physicians