The Majority of Medical Students Are Women For The First Time Ever

Supermajority Education Fund

December 27, 2019

The Association of American Medical Colleges revealed earlier this month that 50.5% of all medical students in 2019 were women. That means women now make up the majority of medical school students in the United States for the first time in history — and many believe that is good news for the future of women’s health.

The changing medical school landscape had been anticipated for some time, as recent years have seen an uptick in medical school applications from women.

“The steady gains in the medical school enrollment of women are a very positive trend, and we are delighted to see this progress,” said AAMC president David J. Skorton in a statement. 

As more women become doctors, patients could potentially benefit, particularly those with conditions that disproportionately affect female patients or that have been under-studied in relationship to women. For example, while heart disease is a leading cause of death in American women, it is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms present differently than they do in men. A 2018 study found that female patients were more likely to survive a heart attack when they were treated by a woman doctor. 

But while experts are applauding the increasing gender parity in medicine, they also note that men continue to dominate certain specialities. Traditionally, women have made up the majority of physicians in the fields of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Allergy, and Pediatrics. However, they are severely underrepresented in most surgical fields, like orthopedic surgery and neurological surgery.

The lack of women in surgery specalties comes as no surprise to Deena Kishawi, a fourth-year medical student and the creator of the website Hijab in the OR. As a medical student who hopes to specialize in surgery, she is used to being one of the only women in her rotations.

“What seems to be the issue is that women experience more burnout in these specialties, so they tend to avoid it, or they feel that these specialties are not family-friendly,” Kishawi, a student at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine, told Supermajority News. But Kishawi has also found that there is a lack of mentorship and support available for women interested in pursuing male-dominated specialties like surgery. She personally credits a summer internship program run by the nonprofit Nth Dimensions, which places women and under-represented students in training positions at clinics and operating rooms, for encouraging her to consider surgery.

“These specialties are not ones you can just happen into,” she explained. “These pipeline programs are a really great opportunity for medical students to really learn of all the different specialties they can enter and find mentors that are similar to them.”

Having women in very visible fields can also impact patients. Kishawi recalls meeting one female patient who had never seen a female medical student before. “Her initial thought was ‘Oh, this is great, we need more women in the field,” Kishawi recalled. “And her second thought was ‘Oh, don’t let the men drive you away.’”