Lawrence Summers was the President of Harvard University from 2001-2006. A very blunt man, he was quoted many times stating his views on the “innate abilities” of men versus women in academics. Lawrence believes that there are fundamental differences between the natural abilities of men versus women. In a meeting with Harvard faculty and staff he was quoted saying that “women do not have the same ‘innate ability’ or ‘natural ability’ as men in some fields”. It is important to note that Summers resigned as President of Harvard University following a no-confidence vote by faculty and staff largely due to his views on the inherent abilities of women.
In this blog I would like to begin to explore statistical trends of female medical school students and physicians as well as answer the following questions:
· What are some societal stigma surrounding women in medical school?
· What are some social expectations of women, and how do they differ from expectations placed on men?
· Is Summers right? Are women lacking some ‘innate ability’ that keeps them at an academic disadvantage?
It is widely known that women have become a very strong presence on college campuses in recent years. Since the year 2000, women have made up approximately 60% of all college students (Williams). A higher percentage of women are entering college and walking away with a degree than ever before. Over the past 11 years women have outpaced their male counterparts in college enrollment.
The United States “Department of Education statistics show that men, whatever their race or socioeconomic group, are less likely than women to get bachelors degrees – and among those who do, fewer complete their degrees in four or five years. Men also get worse grades than women (Lewin)”. In a 2004 research study printed in the European Journal of Psychological Assessment, doctors and psychologists looked at blinded samples of girls and boys and analyzed their socialization, scholastic aptitude, study habits and academic achievements. 100 children (birth-12 years), 180 school-aged children (6-12 years) and 200 adolescents (13-17 years) participated in the study. The study found that women scored higher on:
The men scored higher on:
1. Emotional stability
The Study concluded the following:
“Study habits have also been associated with academic achievement, independently of scholastic aptitudes. Given a similar scholastic aptitude, students with better strategies and better study habits tend to show higher academic achievement (Aluja-Fabregat)”. This shows that someone with proper study habits and who is more socialized can outperform students who have a greater natural ability. The study also goes on to conclude, “Females obtained higher academic achievement scores than males. These differences could be explained by the fact that females showed a more socialized personality pattern and better study habits (Aluja-Fabregat)”.
Given that women are going to college at a higher rate, and getting better grades than men in general, why is it that there is still societal stigma surrounding the academic abilities of women? I would argue that this discrepancy has a lot to do with the social status of women and archaic views of a domestic wife and mother. In our society, many still hold the opinion that women are the main caregivers and men the main breadwinners. I found this to be extremely interesting, the factual statistics do not match society’s perceptions.
We live in a society where women are sexualized, and valued for their beauty. Aesthetic quality seems to outweigh inherent intellect. It is important to study this area because many women have been taught (incorrectly) that they lack some innate intellectual ability and that they are at a disadvantage academically. Statistics simply do not support this view.
When researching physician practice characteristics it was discovered that while female physicians work 8 hours less per week (on average) in comparison to male physicians, they still are working 9 hours more per week than the average American. The average female physician works 49 hours a week (AMA). Female and male physicians spend an equal amount of time seeing patients in their offices. Female physicians spend approximately the same amount of time with each patient as male physicians. Average time spent with patient is approximately ½ an hour (.56) for both male and female. Male physicians see on average 6 more patients per week yet work 8 hours more. Since only 3 hours can be accounted for seeing patients, (given the ½ hour average) the other 5 hours extra male physicians likely spend completing paperwork, paperwork that female physicians take fewer hours per week to complete.
Although still underrepresented in the physician population, women have made huge advances since the 70’s and now comprise approximately 30% of practicing doctors (AMA). Much of the difference between men and women today is due to the gender gap of older generations of doctors, not due to current medical school acceptance or graduation rates. In 2005 50.4% of medical school applicant were female, 49.5% of matriculates and 47.1% of graduates were women.
Of the top 10 medical specialties, female residents dominated three (Obstetrics & Gynecology, Pediatrics, and Dermatology). Male residents dominated three (General surgery, Anesthesiology, and Radiology). Men and women were equally represented in 4 specialties (Internal medicine, Family medicine, Pathology, and Psychiatry). Although there are still some male dominated fields in medicine, there are an equal number of female dominated ones.
In conclusion, society is simply more comfortable with men who work long hours apart from their families. There is also an assumption that women perform worse academically when in reality women tend to outperform men in academic achievements. This academic success can be attributed in part to the socialization of women and their study habits. Summers claim that women lack some innate ability has no merit and is another example of an older generation’s views on the social status of women. The more educated we can be and more open we are to the multifaceted nature of female intelligence, the quicker society’s perceptions will shift and better reflect reality.
This subject is of personal importance to me, as a pre-medical student that is often met with criticism regarding my aspirations of becoming a doctor. If I am able to reach one person, and convince a woman somewhere to chase her dreams then I have succeeded. Our ‘innate’ differences must be celebrated, not condemned our ability must be harnessed not restrained, and we must believe in ourselves and social views will follow in our commanding footsteps.
Aluja-Fabregat, Anton, and Angel Blanch. "Socialized Personality, Scholastic Aptitudes, Study Habits, and Academic Achievement: Exploring the Link." European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 20.3 (2004): 157-165.
AMA "Statistics and History." The American Medical Association, July . Web. 12 Apr. 2011.
Lewin, Tamar. "At Colleges Women Are Leaving Men in the Dust." NY Times, 9 July 2006. Web. 12 Apr. 2011.
Williams, Alex. "The New Math on Campus." NY Times. N.p., 5 Jan. 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2011.