More women publishing top medical papers

Female researchers now account for 37 per cent of first authors in medicines top journals, says US study

March 2, 2016
Female scientist at work in laboratory

About a third more women are now gaining first authorship on scientific papers published by the world’s top medical journals compared with two decades ago, a new study says.

Some 37 per cent of articles published by six of general medicine’s leading journals – Annals of Internal Medicine, Archives of Internal Medicine, The BMJ, JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), The Lancet and NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine) – had a female first author in 2014, according to analysis by a group of US researchers.

Twenty years earlier, in 1994, the share of papers with a female first author was just 27 per cent, according to the paper, titled Trends and comparison of female first authorship in high impact medical journals: observational study (1994-2014), published in The BMJ on 2 March.

However, despite the share of female first authorship in these high-impact journals rising by 37 per cent, it still fails to reflect the diversity of the medical profession, the study says.

Roughly equal numbers of men and women enter medical schools in the US and UK, while there are more female physicians than male ones in several European countries such as Russia, Finland and Hungary.

But women account for less than 30 per cent of clinical faculty overall and 20 per cent of those in senior leadership positions in medical schools in the European Union, the report says.

This lack of  equal representation of women in research matters for science, for patients, and ultimately for public health” as women were more likely to tackle female-related health problems than male researchers, said Kathryn M. Rexrode, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, in an accompanying editorial piece in The BMJ.

The slight decline in female first authorship in The BMJ and the NEJM between 2009 and 2014 when women’s publication rates plateaued across all six journals was also “worrying evidence of a failure to further advance research authorship by women”, added Dr Rexrode.

She called for gender inequality to be tackled by journals, universities and funding agencies by training leaders to understand unconscious bias, as well as the introduction of institutional policies to promote gender equity.

For instance, journals could mask the identity of authors to their reviewers, analyse article acceptance rates by gender and assess the gender balance on their editorial boards and among editors and reviewers, Dr Rexrode said.

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