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Women in medicine − is there a problem? A literature review of the changing gender composition, structures and occupational cultures in medicine


S Kilminster, Research Officer, Medical Education Unit, Level 7 Worsley Building, School of Medicine, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9NL, UK. E-mail:


Background  Internationally, there are increasing numbers of women entering medicine. Although all countries have different health care systems and social contexts, all still show horizontal (women concentrated in certain areas of work) and vertical (women under represented at higher levels of the professions) segregation. There is much discussion and competing explanations about the implications of the increasing numbers of women in the medical profession.

Aims  The purpose of this review was to explore the evidence, issues and explanations to understand the effects of the changing composition of the medical profession.

Conclusions  This review identified evidence that delineates some of the effects of gender on the culture, practice and organisation of medicine. There are problems with some of the research methodologies and we identify areas for further research. To understand the effects of the changing gender composition of medicine it will be necessary to use more sophisticated research designs to explore the structural, economic, historical and social contexts that interact to produce medical culture. This will provide a basis for exploring the impact and implications of these changes and has immediate relevance for workforce planning and understanding both the changing nature of health professions' education and health care delivery.