Purpose: To examine gender differences in physicians' self-assessed abilities to apply knowledge and skills in six core competencies for success as a clinical investigator.
Method: A written questionnaire containing 35 learning objectives was administered to physicians involved in a clinical-research training program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Between 2000 and 2002, 57 postgraduate trainees (49% women) completed the questionnaire; 40 of the 57 completed the questionnaire a second time after a four-day intensive workshop in clinical research. The main outcome measure was gender differences in ratings for each question answered.
Results: Before the workshop, women physicians rated their abilities lower than men rated their own abilities on 22 of 35 learning objectives and women were significantly lower in rating their ability to spend sufficient time developing and advancing their own area of scientific knowledge and research. After the workshop, women rated themselves lower than men rated themselves on 33 of 35 objectives, with significant differences in seven. Women did not rate themselves significantly higher than men rated themselves on any of the 35 objectives assessed.
Conclusion: Women physicians consistently rated their abilities to perform or apply knowledge and skills related to clinical research lower than men rated themselves, and a traditional training venue exacerbated these gender differences. This previously unexplored gender difference in self-perceived competency may indicate an additional barrier women face in academic career development and suggests that educational programs incorporate learning activities that address gender differences when training physicians for careers in clinical research.