New research has shown that when it comes to medical journal articles, those written by women are cited less than those written by men. Citations of articles is a metric often used by institutions to assess the talent of research, so the existence of such prejudice has major consequences on the careers of women in medicine.
This is seen, for example, in the proportion of women at the rank of full professor in US medical schools, which has not increased since 1980 and remains below the proportion of men. Women are also recognized less for their contributions to the medical fields compared to men. Research papers authored by women both as the first and senior authors have increased in number but the proportional output remains significantly less than that of men.
The new work, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, takes the analysis further in terms of citations. The team analyzed 5,554 articles published in leading academic medical journals focusing on internal medicine between 2015 and 2018. Women were the first author in 35.6 percent of the papers published and the senior author of 25.8 percent of them.
When women were both senior and primary authors of a paper, they had the fewest median number of citations among the combinations investigated in the work. They had 33 citations. Papers with women being a lead author had a median of 36 citations, while papers with a woman as a senior author had a median of 37 citations.
The papers that were cited the most were those where the lead and senior authors were both men, averaging a median of 59 citations. Papers with men as primary authors had a median of 54 citations, and papers with men as senior authors had a median of 51 citations.
"The number of times a peer-reviewed articles cited by other researchers is commonly used as a metric for academic recognition, influence, as well as in professional evaluations and promotions," lead author Paula Chatterjee, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of General Internal Medicine at Penn Medicine, said in a statement "Female academics already face a number of barriers to career advancement, and the disparity in citations only broadens the gap between them and their male peers."
The team stresses how the work might actually underestimate the true extent of the bias. Internal medicine has a higher proportion of women compared to other clinical disciplines, so the true number of median citations might be lower.
"Gender disparities in citations are just one way in which inequities in academic medicine should be examined. Our findings highlight that disparities stem in part from inequities in recognition and amplification of research. This imbalance will not be solved through hiring and mentoring more women alone," said senior author, Rachel Werner, MD, PhD, Executive Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics. "We must also work to ensure that women already in academic medicine are equally valued and promoted for their contributions and their successes. From the journals publishing this work, to academic institutions promoting articles once published, everyone should be invested in bridging this gender divide."