The Picture's Bright for Women's Leadership in Medicine, Survey Finds

Gina Shaw, MA


September 17, 2015

In This Article

Achieving Success

Most women in leadership positions (72%) cite excelling at their jobs as the top factor that helped them get where they are. But when asked what they believe would help them reach a position of leadership, non-leaders placed more emphasis on building alliances with others (60%) and being bolstered by the support of peers (54%) and mentors (50%).

"Until we get more men sponsoring women physicians for leadership roles, being their allies and advocates, we're never going to get anywhere," Lautenberger says. "Women don't go outside their gender often enough to seek mentors and sponsors, so women are not getting as many opportunities for high-stakes projects."

Bickel says that the Medscape survey results should encourage male leaders in medicine to mentor more women. "One of the rationales that many powerful men have expressed for not putting as much into their relationships with women trainees is that these women aren't going to go anywhere. They aren't going to become leaders," she says. "These results show that women are making excellent use of all the mentoring and coaching and sponsorship that they get in order to make a greater difference in their field and in the community." Indeed, the survey found that nearly half of women in medicine have never turned down a leadership position that they have been offered.

While Medscape's findings are positive, Lautenberger says, she cautions against confusing progress with success. "It's great to celebrate progress, but we still have so far to go," she says. She notes, for example, that AAMC data show that women represent only about 24% of division chiefs, 16% of medical school deans, and 15% of department chairs.[2] In addition, of Modern Healthcare's "100 Most Influential People in Healthcare" list for 2015, only 27 are women.[3]

And it's not just a "pipeline" problem. "Women have represented about half of medical school entering classes for 15 years. They should be similarly represented in middle-level leadership positions, but this number has only marginally changed over the past 20 years,"[2] Lautenberger says. "Even though we have equal numbers of women coming into the medical sector, they are still being pushed out by a culture that doesn't support their advancement. It's very encouraging that women are showing satisfaction and success in leadership positions; now we need to focus on our organizational cultures to address bias and give talented women opportunities to hold these positions."


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