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Research Letter
August 28, 2023

Portrayal of Women as Physicians in Movies, 1990-2020

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City
  • 2Medical College of Wisconsin School of Medicine, Milwaukee
  • 3Department of Radiation Oncology, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
  • 4Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • 5Department of Medicine, Washington University in St Louis, St Louis, Missouri
  • 6The Ohio State University, Columbus
  • 7Department of Radiation Oncology, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
JAMA Intern Med. 2023;183(10):1168-1170. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2023.2913

Women have been underrepresented in professional roles in movies, causing concern about perpetuation of gender stereotypes.1-4 We examined the portrayal of women as physicians in US movies.

This cross-sectional study was filed as not regulated with the University of Michigan institutional review board and followed the STROBE reporting guideline. We searched IMDb.com for movies released between 1990 and 2020 using references of physicians in plot summaries, key words, and casting credits. Movie and physician characteristics were coded, including gender of physician-characters, writers, directors, and producers. Binary gender categories were assigned using names, corresponding photographs, and film scenes. Similarly, race and ethnicity of lead physician-characters were categorized as either White or other race and ethnicity by visual inspection. We estimated lead physician-character age using the age on IMDb.com of the actor at the time of movie release and manually reviewed the portrayed age of the physician-character. Analyses were performed between January 31 and April 3, 2023; missing data were excluded.

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1 Comment for this article
Representation matters and so does behavior
Susan Weinstein |
While this study is interesting for representation purposes - it's absurd that the movies so poorly reflect population realities - I believe that a qualitative study would better inform our ideas of how this representation may affect public (and potential future physicians') perception. If women are portrayed only as helpless, incompetent, or evil physicians, I'd personally prefer that the filmmakers cut the role or, if necessary to move the plot forward, write and cast the role as male. And, of course, the underrepresentation of women and people of color as movie physicians correlates strongly with the prevalence of women and people of color in positions of authority in the film industry.