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Research Letter
Physician Work Environment and Well-Being
January 7, 2019

Analysis of Gender Equity in Leadership of Physician-Focused Medical Specialty Societies, 2008-2017

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Texas Clinical Research Institute, Arlington
  • 3Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland-Bahrain, Adliya, Bahrain
  • 4Department of Surgery, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 5Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 6Department of Anesthesiology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha
JAMA Intern Med. Published online January 7, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.5303

The long-standing underrepresentation of women among medical academic leaders (deans, chairs, and professors) is well documented. However, little is known about trends in medical society leadership. Because tenure in society leadership positions contributes to academic advancement and provides opportunities to influence both the organization and the medical specialty, it is crucial to begin examining the demographics of society leadership.

In this cross-sectional study, we identified 1 major physician-focused medical society for each of the 43 specialty groupings listed in the 2016 Physician Specialty Data Report (Table).1 We generally selected the largest and/or most influential society in the field. Groupings for internal medicine/pediatrics, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric cardiology, and pediatric hematology/oncology (4 of 43 groupings) were then excluded because physicians in these specialties generally belong to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The primary outcome measures were years of presidential leadership attributed to men and women. To minimize some lack of independence across years, which is even greater for societies using 2-year presidential terms (4 of 39 societies; Table), data were collected for a 10-year period (2008-2017), allowing for a minimum of 5 election cycles. For 38 societies, presidents’ names were assigned to the year of election. For the AAP, which changed the start of its presidential term from fall to January in 2014, presidents elected before 2014 were assigned to the year following election. Gender was determined and verified via publicly available online profiles. One-sample tests of proportions comparing the percentage of women among association presidents with the percentage of women in active practice (Figure) were used to determine the significance (2-sided P values) of underrepresentation or overrepresentation.1-3 The Partners Human Research Committee/institutional review board determined that review of the study and participant written consent were not required.

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