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    Women Students 

Questions from Women:
   Specialties still male-dominated?
   Women taken less seriously?
   Women considered more emotional?
   Interview questions about family, marriage,
More Questions...

    Written for Kaplan's Medical School Admissions Advisor. Posted versions are longer than those published.

    What are the goals of a "typical" female premedical student?

    • To become a pediatrician
    • To open a free clinic
    • To be a role model for women
    • To get married
    • To have children
    • To remain unintimidated by chauvinistic attitudes

    Well, the last goal may not be "typical." Let's first look at the profession, and then consider some concerns expressed by many women premedical students.

    The History of Women in Medicine

    Although more than 50% of the U.S. population is female, only about 20% of practicing physicians are currently women. This is much higher than in 1970, when women constituted only about 7% of all practicing physicians. The numbers of women applicants and matriculants into medical school have been steadily increasing over the last thirty years. In 1996-97, over 20,000 women applied to allopathic medical school, virtually equal percentages of men and women were accepted, and women made up about 43% of the entering class. Projections by the AAMC published in 1995 are that by the year 2010, 30% of the physician workforce will be female. With women now composing over 50% of the general U.S. population, why are medical schools not admitting and graduating 50% women today? This level of equity may, indeed, be reached in the next twenty years.

    The Current Realities

    The Council on Graduate Medical Education's recent Fifth Report: Women and Medicine, delineates five findings related to women in the physician workforce:

    • The number of women in the professions is increasing
    • Women remain underrepresented among leaders in medicine
    • Women concentrate in a limited number of specialties
    • Physician gender has little impact on workforce forecasting
    • Barriers to women's equal status remain as obstacles to their advancement

    Perhaps this last finding is what concerns women premedical students the most; that gender bias, a reflection of society's value system, remains the single greatest deterrent to women achieving their full potential in every aspect of the medical profession, and is a barrier throughout their full professional life cycle. Specifically, this refers to sexual harassment, societal expectations of the roles of women as the primary child care provider, the need for adequate child care, and barriers to equal participation of women in some medical specialties and subspecialties.

    Women's Concerns

    One student said, "I wish medical schools focused more on the 'human' aspect of the medical profession, that is, I would like it to be more 'people-oriented' than a purely impersonal, academic-focused profession." Was this a female premedical student? Yes. Women seem to have an easier time developing empathy, listening and communication skills, and thus, wish to have the interpersonal communications side of medicine take a higher profile. For the last several years, the national and regional AAMC meetings of such administrators as the Group on Student Affairs have emphasized that "professionalism" and "communication skills and sensitivity" are necessary in medical education training for physicians. Whether or not every medical faculty member has heard this wake up call is questionable, but medical educators seem to be moving in this direction.

    If you are a freshman, you might notice that there are about equal numbers of men and women who consider themselves to be premedical. By the time you apply as a junior or senior, 43 percent of applicants are women compared to 57 percent of men....why? Although there is no definitive answer to this question, women seem to drop out of the premedical pipeline when the occasional crisis (academic, personal, financial, family, health) arises, and they are not as persistent as their male peers after surviving the crisis. Men seem to be hardier in this respect, taking the occasional setbacks or "failures" in stride, and rebounding until they have no more strategies to try and only when "success" seems not to be possible. There may be an important message here for women: you need to seek a role model, a Mentor, or a trusted Advisor who can nurture your potential to fruition. If your instincts say "give up", they may not represent a realistic appraisal of your potential. Check with another, "neutral" source of information--not your uncle, the doctor, or your sister or your roommate, but someone who has a good perspective about what it takes to get into medical school. A trusted Premedical Advisor or faculty member may be that person for you.

    An older student said, "My greatest concern for women in medicine is that of opportunity. Our society continues to reinforce the notion that women are not equal to men. Further, there are many women who believe this about themselves. In my opinion, this premise of inequality stems from a shocking level of dysfunction in our nuclear family. What are we teaching our children to believe? Ninety percent of my female peers spend an overwhelming amount of time in anxiety about whether or not they will succeed. I believe that the underlying question is not whether they have the intelligence to succeed, but whether their background nurtured their self-esteem to allow them to succeed."

    Go to "What Women Want in Medical Schools"