Supporting and Empowering Women in Medicine

August 10, 2022

Women now make up 36% of physicians in the U.S., up from just 6% in 1950. Patients and health workers alike benefit greatly from the growing proportion of women in medicine.

Studies show that female doctors spend more time with patients than male doctors, on average. Women in leadership also tend to lead with a more collaborative approach. This is effective, as research shows women increase overall productivity of health care organizations.

But women in medicine also face barriers, including biases against female doctors, a lack of mentorship opportunities, and work-life balance challenges.

In fact, compared to men, women are much more likely to work part-time or quit medicine. In a recent study, women were almost 40% more likely than men to report working less than full-time six years after completing their residency.

Women are also more likely to face gender-based bias, both from peers and superiors, as well as patients. This may come in the form of comments questioning female doctor's expertise. Unconscious bias can also mean hiring committees overlook women for leadership roles.

Recent data from the American Medical Association found that only 3% of health care CEOs and chief medical officers are women. In addition, less than 10% of division chiefs are women.

Female doctors generally make less than male doctors, both in the U.S. and globally. The gender pay gap exists even within the same specialty and when working similar hours.

How Can Hospitals Support Women in Medicine?

There are many ways to encourage women in medicine, including in leadership. Some of the top measures include:

  • Surveying women about the challenges they face — and asking them about solutions that could help.
  • Offering mentorship and leadership training to female physicians.
  • Encouraging women to apply for leadership roles.
  • Providing transparency in payment structures.
  • Measuring gender pay gaps and implementing solutions to address the gaps.
  • Training leaders and staff to recognize unconscious bias and understand how it affects women in the workplace.

Supporting women in medicine means respecting the roles they play outside of work as well. In a recent survey, 64% of women cited work-life balance as their main challenge, above compensation and career development. Ways to promote a culture of work-life balance include:

  • Training and promoting leaders who encourage and role model work-life balance in team members.
  • Providing paid parental leave.
  • Allowing greater flexibility in work hours, including allowing remote work when possible.

How UPMC Supports Women in Medicine

At UPMC, we are proud of our success in attracting and retaining female physicians. This starts at the top with our female CEO, Leslie C. Davis. One third of our cardiology fellows are female, compared to the national average of 20%.

The Healthcare Equity Index and the National Diversity Council both recognize UPMC for our industry-leading diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

One of our key mentorship opportunities is our peer coaching program. Doctors who sign up to be peer coaches receive free training and certification to help them in this role. Doctors who sign up to be mentees can get guidance in career advancement, strategies for juggling many roles, and more.

“Ultimately our goal is to train all of our physician leaders in these coaching techniques, because we know that they're unbelievably impactful in improving the way people interact with each other," says Jennifer Berliner, MD, a Physician Thrive committee co-chair and cardiologist who sits on the scientific board of the Physician Wellness Academic Consortium.

The physician coaching program is open to everyone, but Dr. Berliner says given the many challenges they face, female physicians can especially benefit.

UPMC's mentorship opportunities extend to the general community as well. The recently launched She Looks Like a Cardiologist event brings together high school students and female cardiologists, led by Katie Berlacher, MD, MS, FACC. The educational event exposes girls to a career in medicine while introducing them to role models and mentors.