Female Physicians Are Underrepresented in Recognition Awards from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

PM R. 2017 Oct;9(10):976-984. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2017.02.016. Epub 2017 Mar 21.


Background: Medical specialty societies are important resources for physicians in advancing their careers. There is a gap in the literature regarding gender disparities within these societies. This study assesses one area where disparities may exist: recognition awards.

Objective: To determine whether female physicians are underrepresented among recognition award recipients by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R).

Design: Surveillance study.

Setting and methods: A published online list of national award recipients from the AAPM&R was analyzed. Forty-eight years of data were included, as the list contained all major recognition award recipients from 1968 to 2015. All awards that were given exclusively to physicians were included. There were eight award categories listed online; seven met this criterion, with a total of 264 individual awards presented. One award category was excluded because it focused on distinguished public service and included both physician and nonphysician (eg, public official) recipients. Awards that were not published online were also excluded.

Main outcome measures: Total awards given to female versus male physicians from 1968 to 2015, with awards given over the past decade (2006-2015) assessed independently. Lectureships were also analyzed as a set. For awards given to groups of physician recipients, analysis included gender composition of the group (eg, male only versus female only versus mixed-gender physician groups). To assess the proportion of female versus male physiatrists over time, physician gender and specialty data from 3 sources were used: the American Medical Association (AMA), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and the AAPM&R.

Results: Over the past 48 years, the AAPM&R presented 264 recognition awards to physicians. Award recipients were overwhelmingly male (n = 222; 84.1%). Females received 15.9% (n = 42) of the total awards, although there was an upward trend in female physician recipients to 26.8% (n = 26) from 2006 to 2015. Lectureships were given to 8 female physicians (n = 8 of 77, 10.4%). These results were lower than the proportion of female physicians in the field of physiatry (35% in 2013). Female physicians were more likely to receive awards if they were part of a group and less likely to be recognized if the award was given to only 1 recipient each year or involved a lectureship with a speaking opportunity at a national meeting.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study in medicine to assess whether female physicians are underrepresented among recipients of recognition awards presented by a national medical society. For nearly half a century, female physicians have been underrepresented in awards presented by the AAPM&R. Although it is encouraging that the proportion of female physicians receiving awards is increasing, further research is needed to understand why underrepresentation remains.

Level of evidence: Not applicable.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Awards and Prizes*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment
  • Physiatrists / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine*
  • Physicians, Women / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Ratio
  • Societies, Medical
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Workforce