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J Am Coll Surg. 2014 Mar;218(3):345-52. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2013.11.012. Epub 2013 Nov 20.

Sex, role models, and specialty choices among graduates of US medical schools in 2006-2008.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. Electronic address:
Center for Cancer Biostatistics, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; Center for Bioethics and Social Science in Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.
Fuqua School of Business and Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC.



Undergraduate education studies have suggested instructor sex can influence female students to pursue a discipline. We sought to evaluate a similar hypothesis in medical students.


We obtained Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) data about the specialization of 2006-2008 graduates of US medical schools, the sex of their faculty and department chairs, and sex of residents in the residency programs in which they enrolled. We used logistic regression to examine associations between faculty and leadership sex and female students' pursuit of 5 surgical specialties along with 3 nonsurgical specialties for context. We used Wilcoxon rank-sum tests to evaluate whether women entered residency programs with a higher proportion of female residents.


In 2006-2008, US medical school graduates included 23,642 women. Women were substantially under-represented among residents in neurosurgery, orthopaedics, urology, otolaryngology, general surgery, and radiology; women constituted 47.4% of US graduates specializing in internal medicine and 74.9% in pediatrics. We found no significant associations between exposure to a female department chair and selection of that specialty and no consistent associations with the proportion of female full-time faculty. Compared with male students, female students entered residency programs in their chosen specialty that had significantly higher proportions of women residents in the year before their graduation.


Although we did not detect consistent significant associations between exposure to potential female faculty role models and specialty choice, we observed that female students were more likely than males to enter programs with higher proportions of female residents. Sex differences in students' specialization decisions merit additional investigation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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