Women physicians' specialty choices

Marilyn Jane Greer, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Three hypotheses have been offered to explain the historical specialty selection by women physicians. They are: (1) women choose the specialty for which the training requirements and working conditions interfere least with their commitments to marriage and children; (2) women tend to select the more "feminine" specialties such as pediatrics and psychiatry, and to avoid the "masculine" fields such as surgery; and (3) women have been deliberately excluded from male-dominated fields such as surgery. While the above hypotheses may be true to a greater or lesser degree, none of them has been adequately tested. The major study hypotheses are as follows: (1) female physicians' choice of specialty is influenced by the following reasons: (a) family responsibilities; (b) sex role expectations; and (c) sex discrimination; (2) female physicians' choice of specialty is also influenced by their age and ethnicity; and (3) the primary reasons for choosing a given specialty vary by type of specialty. The reasons for specialty selection will be explored based on a survey of women graduates of one of the oldest medical schools in the United States, The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, Texas (n = 930). The survey response rate was 75.3% (700 respondents). The results for the first study hypothesis showed that fewer than 14% of the respondents agreed that sex role expectations, sex discrimination and family responsibilities played a role in their choice of specialty. Fifty nine percent of the respondents disagreed with the idea that sex role expectations influenced specialty selection and 64% disagreed that family responsibilities had an effect on the selection of their specialty. Around half (49%) were uncertain of the influence of sex discrimination. It was concluded that sex discrimination, sex role expectations and family responsibilities did not have a major impact on specialty selection. With respect to the second hypothesis, age was significant in Internal Medicine, Obstetrics/Gynecology and Psychiatry. Women physicians in Internal Medicine and Obstetrics/Gynecology were significantly younger (less than 45 years old) while physicians in Psychiatry were significantly older (45 years or older) than other specialties studied. The third hypothesis was confirmed: the reasons for choosing a given specialty varied by specialty. Respondents' comments written on the survey provided insight into other possible reasons for specialty selection including exploration of the role of mentoring and job satisfaction. The retrospective cross-sectional study design used in this study does not adequately capture the fact that different reasons may be given for the choice of specialty at different points in time, e.g., as the time of choosing a residency program versus several years into the future. In conclusion, approaches that explore the range of reasons that women elect to enter and stay within a given specialty must be explored to gain richer understanding of the complex and dynamic nature of women physicians' professional lives. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Subject Area

Womens studies|Health education|Behaviorial sciences|Occupational psychology|Surgery

Recommended Citation

Greer, Marilyn Jane, "Women physicians' specialty choices" (1994). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9528246.