New Report Shows Glaring Absence of Women Physicians as Recognition Award Recipients from Medical Societies Across Multiple Specialties

Boston, MA –Harvard Medical School faculty at Spaulding, Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals published a new report in the journal PM&R titled “Where are the Women? The Underrepresentation of Women Physicians among Recognition Award Recipients from Medical Specialty Societies.”  This report built upon their previous research and included seven medical specialties: physical medicine and rehabilitation, dermatology, neurology, anesthesiology, orthopedic surgery, head and neck surgery, and plastic surgery. Examples of the underrepresentation of women physicians at zero or near-zero levels was found in each of these specialties. The authors of this report compared the results to the proportion of women physicians that are in each of the specialties. They also used a concept from American courts called the “inexorable zero” to make the point that a glaring absence of women suggests there may be an underlying discrimination issue.

The lead author on the study, Julie K. Silver, MD, is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and the Associate Chair for Strategic Initiatives for the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. Dr. Silver and other researchers from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School were joined in this report by Sareh Parangi, MD who is a Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and an oncology surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as the vice-president of the Association of Women Surgeons and Amparo Villablanca, MD who is a Professor and Chair for the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine and the Director of Women in Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis.

Dr. Silver says, “The same type of criteria that is used for recognition awards is also used for academic faculty promotion at the medical school level. Moreover, many of the resources that are needed for faculty promotion are owned or controlled by medical societies. To address promotion and pay disparities for women in medicine, we need to better understand the role of our professional organizations. I believe that connecting these dots may also enhance efforts aimed at physician burnout and patient healthcare service disparities.”

Medical societies provide key platforms for professional advancement and major awards recognition and accompanying lectureships are important factors towards career advancement. The lack of representation creates a cycle where women are not afforded the opportunity to be considered thus do not have the opportunities to do work that can be recognized.

The authors propose a call for action across the entire spectrum of medical societies to: 1) examine gender diversity and inclusion data through the lens of the organization’s mission, values and culture; 2) transparently report the results to members and other stakeholders including medical schools and academic medical centers; 3) investigate potential causes of less than proportionate representation of women; 4) implement strategies designed to improve inclusion; 5) track outcomes as a means to measure progress and inform future strategies; and 6) publish the results in order to engage community members in conversation about the equitable representation of women.

Dr. Ross Zafonte, Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and Senior Vice President of Research, Education and Medical Affairs at Spaulding, said, “Harnessing the power of our talented and diverse physician workforce is absolutely necessary in order to advance clinical care, improve research agendas and train the next generation of physician leaders. Diversity is a powerful tool to enhance problem solving and patient centered practice. A glaring absence of recognition awards for women physicians is troubling; this work serves as a call toward systematic societal and organizational improvement. In this new report, Dr. Silver and colleagues have mapped out a metric driven diversity inclusion plan that medical societies should consider adopting and make a top priority. We need everyone engaged and involved in order to solve the many health delivery problems we face.”

About Spaulding Rehabilitation Network
A member of Partners HealthCare, the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network includes Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, its main campus in Charlestown as well as Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Cape Cod, Spaulding Hospital Cambridge and two skilled nursing facilities, as well as twenty-five outpatient sites throughout Eastern Massachusetts. In 2016, U.S. News & World Report named Spaulding a “Top Five” rehabilitation hospital in the nation. Spaulding is one of the few hospitals in the U.S. to be awarded the prestigious Model Systems designation in all three areas of care—Spinal Cord Injury, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Burn Injury—selected by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research. A teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, Spaulding has been recognized for fostering the top residency program in the country by reputation and research output by Doximity Residency Navigator. For more information, please visit

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