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Still a Gap

Although women now make up about half of all new physicians, the proportion of women who are full professors at US medical schools hasn't increased since the 1980s, according to an analysis appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A team of Boston-based researchers sorted through a database of more than 91,000 physicians to examine any sex-based differences in full professorships. Even after adjusting for age, experience, specialty, and measures of research productivity, they found that women were "substantially less likely" than their male counterparts to be full professors.

At the Guardian, first author Anupam Jena, a health policy researcher at Harvard Medical School, notes that while the study can't say why women are less likely to be full professors, he suspects that a lack of mentorship for female physicians could be a key factor. Other factors could include following a clinical versus academic track and time taken off to care for children, the newspaper adds.

"What we see here is that women and men doing equal work are not being equally rewarded," Jena says in a statement. "If the goal is to achieve equity, or to give incentives for the best researchers to stay in academic medicine, we need to work on closing that gap."

Meanwhile, a separate study from Health Resources in Action appearing in the same issue of JAMA found that female researchers receive significantly less startup funds than male researchers.

By sifting through grant applications made to their foundation, the researchers found that junior faculty women receive a median $350,000 in startup funding to junior faculty men's median $889,000. This gap, they add, couldn't be explained by degree, years of experience, or institutional characteristics.

"This first look suggests the need for systematic study of sex differences in institutional support and the relationship to career trajectories," Health Resources in Action's Robert Sege and his colleagues write.