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Med Educ. 2011 Mar;45(3):249-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03856.x.

Gender and the pre-clinical experiences of female medical students: a taxonomy.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, USA Department of Internal Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.



The number of women entering medical school has increased substantially in recent years. However, practising female doctors still report gender-associated professional challenges. We focused on female medical students to characterise how gender shapes the range of their professional experiences during the pre-clinical years of medical school.


We conducted a qualitative study from 2006 to 2007 using in-depth interviews with 12 Year 3 female medical students at a private New England medical school who had completed their pre-clinical years of training. All transcripts were analysed using a grounded theory approach; the code structure was developed through a process of inductive reasoning. Coding team members coded all transcripts line by line, using a constant comparative method of analysis.


The resulting taxonomy identifies three domains that capture the recurrent gender-associated experiences of our participants: (i) observations of the effect of gender on pre-clinical educational experiences through instructor, student and institutional behaviour; (ii) responses to observations of gender-based occurrences in terms of emotional reactions and strategic responses, and (iii) gender-associated expectations for the clinical years and beyond brought about by a heightened awareness of gender. Participants reported subtle as well as overt gender-based experiences and emotional consequences of both.


Female medical students continue to report numerous gender-based experiences during their pre-clinical training. Such experiences have both emotional and educational consequences and institutions should develop multifaceted approaches to address the full spectrum of gender-based experiences that affect medical students.

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