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Context: Despite equal enrollment proportions in MD and PhD programs, there are fewer women than men in MD-PhD programs and academic medicine. Factors important in degree program selection, including the perception of gender disparities, among undergraduate students were characterized.

Methods: In 2017, pre-health students at four public North Carolina universities were invited to participate in an online survey regarding career plans, decision factors, and perceptions of gender disparities in MD, PhD and MD-PhD pathways. The authors characterized factors important to program selection, and evaluated the association of intended graduate program with perceived gender disparities using Fisher’s exact tests.

Results: Among the n=186 female survey participants, most were white (54%) and intended MD, PhD, and/or MD-PhD programs (52%). Sixty percent had heard of MD-PhD programs, over half had no research experience, and half were considering but uncertain about pursuing a research career. The most common factors influencing degree program choice were perceived competitiveness as an applicant, desired future work environment, and desire for patient interaction. Twenty-five percent of students considering MD, PhD, and MD-PhD programs stated that perceived gender disparities during training for those degrees will influence their choice of program, however intended degree was not statistically associated with perceived gender disparities.

Discussion: Perceived gender disparities may influence choice of graduate training program but are not among the top factors. Perceived competitiveness as an applicant is an important career consideration among undergraduate women. Strategies to increase awareness of MD-PhD programs, to encourage women to consider all training paths for which they are qualified are needed.

Keywords: Education, Graduate; Sexism; Career Choice; Biomedical Research/education; Female

What is known: Though men and women are nearly equally represented in MD-only and PhD-only programs, women are underrepresented in MD-PhD programs, which train physician-scientists. Prior studies have shown gender is not associated with rates of attrition from MD-PhD programs or differences in academic preparation, research interest, or research experience, suggesting enrollment differences by gender may be due to fewer women applying to MD-PhD programs. Gender parity in the physician-scientist workforce is critical to equitably serving a diverse patient population.

What this study adds: This study is the first to examine the role of gender disparities in the career choices of undergraduate women. Given the moderate familiarity with MD-PhD training and lack of research experience among respondents, increased awareness of MD-PhD programs and expanded research opportunities may help undergraduates make informed career choices. This may increase women MD-PhD applicants, creating a more balanced physician-scientist workforce to address the needs of patients from all backgrounds.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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