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February 25, 2009

The Feminization of Medicine and Population Health

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Departments of Family Medicine and Community Health and Epidemiology (Dr Phillips) and School of Medicine (Ms Austin), Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

JAMA. 2009;301(8):863-864. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.155

Over the past century, women have moved from near exclusion from medical schools toward forming the majority of new graduates in medicine, a trend referred to as “the feminization of medicine.”1 While eliminating barriers to entry is a matter of equity and fairness, it has been argued that the real influence of this feminization will be a humanization of the profession and the care it provides.2 In reality, the shift toward values that are stereotypically female may be unrelated to a shifting sex makeup of the profession, but rather may have resulted from consumer demand, litigation, or evidence of best practices. On the other hand, a critical mass of female physicians may have contributed to the changes that now make medicine a more welcoming place for women and men, both as patients and practitioners. Nevertheless, working patterns of female physicians in developed countries have prompted concern that women in medicine are either the cause of, or will exacerbate, physician shortages. In this Commentary, we describe the career choices of women physicians and the contribution of medical care to decreasing mortality rates and hypothesize that the feminization of medicine is good for health outcomes.