Association of Physician Characteristics With Perceptions and Experiences of Gender Equity in an Academic Internal Medicine Department

JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Nov 1;2(11):e1915165. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.15165.


Importance: The persistence of inequities that disadvantage women physicians remains empirically underexplained. Understanding the cultural factors that are associated with disparities in harassment, discrimination, remuneration, and career trajectory are critical to addressing inequities.

Objectives: To explore how physicians perceive the climate for women physicians and compare perceptions and experiences of gender inequity among physicians based on characteristics including gender, faculty status, parental status, and years in practice.

Design, setting, and participants: This sequential, explanatory, mixed-methods qualitative study used the Culture Conducive to Women's Academic Success (CCWAS; range 45-225, with higher scores indicating better perceived culture toward women), followed by individual semistructured interviews with physicians at the Department of Medicine of the University of Calgary. All 389 physician members of the Department of Medicine, including academic and clinical physicians and those of any gender, were invited to participate in the survey and interview phases.

Main outcomes and measures: The culture within the department for women physicians was assessed using the CCWAS score. Scores were compared between respondents' gender and years in practice. Interviews with physicians were used to further explore findings from the CCWAS and to understand experiences and perceptions of gender disparities.

Results: A total of 169 of 389 physicians completed the survey (response rate, 43.4%; 102 [59.9%] women; 65 [38.9%] men; and 2 [1.2%] who did not disclose gender); 28 participants (7.2%) elected to participate in an interview (22 [78.6%] women; 6 [21.4%] men). Women physicians perceived the culture of the department toward women as significantly worse than men physicians (median [interquartile range] CCWAS score, 137.0 [118.0-155.0] vs 164.5 [154.0-183.4]; P < .001). Physicians with more than 15 years in practice perceived the culture toward women as significantly more favorable than physicians with 15 years or less in practice (median [interquartile range] CCWAS score, 157.0 [138.8-181.3] vs 147.0 [127.5-164.3]; P = .02). Qualitative data demonstrated that experiences of junior women (ie, physicians who graduated medical school after 1996, when an equal number of men and women in medical school was achieved in Canada) and perceptions of senior men (ie, those who graduated before 1996) were most different; junior women reported high rates of discrimination and harassment, while senior men perceived that the Department of Medicine had achieved gender equity.

Conclusions and relevance: In this study, senior men physicians' perceptions of gender equity were different from lived experiences of gender inequity reported by junior women physicians. This demographic mismatch between perceptions and experiences of gender equity in medicine may explain the lack of action by leaders and decision-makers in medicine to mitigate disparities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers / organization & administration
  • Academic Medical Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Adult
  • Alberta
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations
  • Internal Medicine / methods*
  • Internal Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Physicians / classification*
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychometrics / instrumentation
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexism / psychology*
  • Sexism / statistics & numerical data