May 8, 2019

Gender equity in medicine – are conferences keeping up?

UCalgary researchers look at the data from the last 10 years.

A new study published in JAMA Network Open by Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) researchers at the University of Calgary explores the trends in proportion of female speakers at medical conferences in the United States and in Canada.

“As conferences represent an important opportunity for role modeling, mentorship, and career advancement, understanding gender disparities in conference speakership is important for understanding gender inequity in medicine,” says lead author Dr. Shannon Ruzycki, MD, a clinical lecturer and associate director of Physician Wellness and Vitality in the Department of Medicine at CSM.

Conducting a cross-sectional analysis of 181 medical conferences in 2007 and from 2013 through 2017, the research team found that the proportions of female speakers increased significantly from 24.6 per cent to 34.1 per cent. However, 88 per cent of conferences still had less than 50 per cent of speakers who were female.

The researchers also note low representation of female physicians in prestigious academic positions, such as conference speakership, may contribute to low proportions of female physicians in select academic, surgical and medical specialties. 

“Speaker invitation and selection at conferences represent important opportunities to influence gender equity within medicine,” says study co-author Dr. Aleem Bharwani, MD, who is also a co-chair of the Gender Equity Task Force in the Department of Medicine alongside Ruzycki. “We encourage academics and physicians to share these findings with their professional associations, favourite conferences and conference organizers, as well as suggest to them women whom they’d like to see present at their next conference.”

The research team includes Sarah Fletcher, medical student at the University of British Columbia; Dr. Madalene Earp, PhD, research associate with the Ward of the 21st Century at the CSM; Dr. Aleem Bharwani, MD, is the vice chair of the Department of Medicine, director for public policy and strategic partnerships at the CSM and policy lead for the O’Brien Institute of Public Health; and Dr. Kirstie Lithgow, MD, clinical lecturer in the Department of Medicine at the CSM.

Dr. Shannon Ruzycki, MD and Dr. Aleem Bharwani, MD

Dr. Shannon Ruzycki, MD and Dr. Aleem Bharwani, MD