Addressing Gender Inequality in the Medical Field with Marcia Klein-Patel, MD


Today marks the fourth-ever National Women Physicians Day, an event that that is intended to pay respect to women physicians across the country. It’s held each year on February 3, the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell.

In 1858, Blackwell became the first female medical doctor in the United States, and while much has changed since then there are still fewer female doctors nationally than male doctors.

Marcia E. Klein-Patel, MD, Chair of the Alleghany Health Network’s Women’s Institute, spoke of gender biases in the medical field, representation issues for women and minority groups in both professional and clinical areas, and what could be done to raise awareness and create a more inclusive and fair medical community.

Klein-Patel initially addressed some of the limitations in career opportunities for women in medicine.

“We know that there are many gender differences, women across medicine specialties are paid less than their male counterparts, and are less likely to progress along the academic promotions pathway,” Klein-Patel said. “They're also significantly less likely to be Chairs or Deans of their programs, with only 18% of chairs or games and academic programs being women.”

She added that women are also less likely to author journal articles, but more likely to experience and report of disrespect in the workplace than their male counterparts (70% and 1%, respectively).

Though there have been significant positive advancements in enrolling and graduating women at nearly equal rates to men since the early 2000s, Klein-Patel was confident that there are institutional efforts that could aid in decreasing these barriers that affect women once graduating.

These efforts could ensure that women, who are significantly underrepresented in surgical subspecialties and fields, have greater access more highly compensated positions.

However, sex biases extend well beyond the workplace, as Klein-Patel explained.

“There's actually a wide variety of representation for women in clinical trials, it's very field dependent, but I think it's important to notice that there's sex biases and clinical trial enrollment for oncology and cardiology, which are the 2 largest areas for male female mortality, as well as decrease in nephrology and hematology trials among others,” she said. “Women are also more likely to be underrepresented in clinical trials for drugs and supplements, and procedures and other interventions, and we've been really made aware of during (the COVID-19 pandemic), most pregnant women are excluded from clinical trials.”

Klein-Patel suggested allocation for resources for female focus trials and requirements for trials to enroll an equal number of female patients as represented by the disease processes would be crucial in addressing the disparities in clinical trials, especially as they pertain to heart disease.

“We know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women accounting for 1:5 female deaths, but there's an under representation of female participants in those clinical trials, as we discussed before, which widens that sex gap and mortality,” she said.

To hear more from Dr. Klein-Patel on issues such as under-representation and physician burnout, listen to the full episode of DocTalk above.

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