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Am J Med. 2012 Aug;125(8):811-6. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2012.03.006. Epub 2012 May 10.

Research leadership and investigators: gender distribution in the federal government.

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  • 1Department of Veterans Affairs, Pharmacy Benefits Management Services, Hines, IL 60141, USA.



The National Academies reported in Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering (2006) that "women are very likely to face discrimination." In academic medicine, gender distribution is becoming more balanced. In the federal government, women also have made progress, doubling their representation in professional positions to 44%. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a research program and a mission to train health care professionals; however, its gender distribution has not been described.


We conducted a descriptive study using public data for positions in the VA, National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). We followed with a case-control analysis of predictors of receipt of grant funding in the VA. Participants were 224 leadership positions and 132 principal investigators.


Women comprised 33% (AHRQ), 27% (NIH), and 0% (VA) of the top research leadership. Across all VA research levels, women comprised 45% to 0%, depending on the service. In the case-control analysis of principal investigators, men had greater odds (odds ratio 8.0) of a Cooperative Studies Program (CSP) trial award. History of first, last, or any authorship on a clinical trial publication in the 10 years before the index trial was only weakly associated with award of a CSP trial. The gender imbalance was not explained by publication history.


Marked gender disparities were seen in the VA, except in Health Services Research. Organizations must investigate their practices to reveal disparities, investigate underlying factors, and intervene as needed.

Published by Elsevier Inc.

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