Women Aren’t Represented Enough On Medical Specialty Boards
This summer I have had the incredible opportunity to intern at GenderAvenger, and I have learned so much about gender imbalance and how prevalent it is in every aspect of our lives. I have also been studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) in the hopes of attending medical school after I graduate college. Given my work with GenderAvenger, I began to think about gender imbalance in medicine and who might be there to greet me in my new profession, so I decided to look into the gender balance of medical specialty boards to see if women’s voices were being heard. Unfortunately, my results show that they aren’t.
The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery (ABOS) establishes standards for orthopaedic residents and evaluates the initial and continuing competence of orthopaedic surgeons. The Board does this by reviewing the credentials and practices of voluntary candidates and, when appropriate, issues certificates, essentially determining who becomes a Board-certified orthopaedic surgeon and who doesn’t. It’s really unfortunate that this 21-member organization, which plays such a major role in healthcare, has only two members who are women. That’s right, a meager 9 percent of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery are women.
The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery is far from the only board to have poor representation of women. Of the 25 specialty medical boards, only four (Medical Genetics, Pathology, Pediatrics, and Preventative Medicine) have 50 percent or more women on their board of directors. That leaves 21 specialty medical boards where women do not have an equal voice in key decisions in their field. Orthopaedic surgery is the worst with 9 percent, followed by urology with 11 percent, and neurological surgery with 13 percent of the board of directors being women. Overall, 15 of the 25 medical boards have a board of directors with less than 40 percent women.
Patients should want a more diverse board where women’s voices are heard because these specialty boards affect patient care. They set standards for quality of care, verify the competency of physicians, develop assessments, and inform patients by providing board certification information to help them select a provider. When the leadership of these specialty medical boards makes these important decisions, all voices should be heard, not mostly men’s.
Some might point to the fact that a 2015 report showed that only 5 percent of active orthopaedic surgeons are women, but this is not true for all specialties. 38.4 percent of practicing Family Medicine physicians are women, but they represent only 33 percent of the board of directors. 54.5 percent of practicing OB/GYNs are women while the board of directors is just 46 perfect women. Besides, unequal representation of women practicing medicine should not excuse unequal representation on the board of directors. It is important to aim high and not wait for numbers to catch up, because that will only lead to incremental change, and incremental change is too slow when it comes to ensuring the best patient care. Having more women on the Board of Directors could lead to structural changes in residency training which would encourage and allow more women to become board-certified specialists.
Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges in 2017 showed that for the first time over 50 percent of enrolling medical students were women. American specialty medical boards need to increase the number of women serving on their board of directors so they can better serve and represent these incoming women physicians.
Lauren Mayer is a senior at Harvard College studying Integrative Biology and Global Health and Health Policy. She is a summer intern for GenderAvenger and is especially interested in gender representation in medicine.