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Leading Medical Research Studies: Percentage Rises, But Still Lags Behind

The number of women with leadership roles in research studies published in major medical journals has increased significantly over the past three decades, but women remain under-represented among medical science investigators. In the July 20 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), a group from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reports that, among U.S. physician-researchers leading original studies published in some of the country’s most prestigious medical journals, the proportion who are women increased almost fivefold from 1970 to 2004.

“We found that women have come a long way, but that there is still a long path ahead,” says Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, lead author of the study and formerly chief resident in the MGH Department of Radiation Oncology. “Although women are now entering the medical profession at the same rate as men, my colleagues and I had a sense that few of the studies and editorials in journals we read were authored by women, which might be discouraging to young women physicians and students. When we realized that no one had looked over time at the percentage of authors who were women, we decided to do it ourselves.” Jagsi has now joined the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School.

The MGH team analyzed the number of women with the key roles of lead or senior author in papers published in six leading U.S. medical journals: NEJM, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Annals of Internal Medicine, Annals of Surgery, Journal of Pediatrics, and Obstetrics and Gynecology. They reviewed all original research reports published in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2004 to determine the gender as well as the academic degrees and institutional affiliations of the lead and senior authors, restricting their analysis to authors holding MD degrees from U.S. institutions. They also reviewed editorials written by invited experts in NEJM and JAMA.
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