British women in medicine speak out against a culture of prejudice

Women academics in medical education and research have spoken out against a 'culture of prejudice' which keeps them from achieving senior positions, in a report published by the British Medical Association.

Despite women now making up 60% of medical student intake, there are no female heads of medical schools, and only a handful of women in senior academic positions. Appointment and promotion is often based on rigid traditional lines, says the study, discriminating against many women and anyone who has to work more flexibly.

The report - Women in Academic Medicine: Challenges and Issues - draws together the experiences of a random sample of women working across medical education and research in the UK. Many medical schools have inflexible career structures, say the contributors, leaving some women with "tortuous" routes to career progression.

Funding systems for universities also discriminate against women, the study shows. Departments are awarded money and ratings based on staff research output. Those who have less time for research, like part-timers or those who spend more time teaching - many of them women - are seen as less productive, and find their careers blocked as a result, says the report.

The women acknowledge that a cultural shift rather than a 'quick fix' solution is needed. They also applaud the positive impact of mentors in senior positions ? as set up for women scientists ? and recommend similar support systems across medicine.

Dr Anita Holdcroft, deputy chair of the BMA's Medical Academic Staff Committee (MASC), commented:

"It is shocking that academic medicine still widely fosters a culture of prejudice. No one has even collected information on how many women are working in medical academia, or what positions they hold ? which shows just what a low priority it has been to ensure women are being treated fairly."

Professor Michael Rees, chair of MASC added:

"We already face a severe staffing crisis in medical schools. How can we expect people to choose academic medicine, when they may well suffer job insecurity and discrimination in their careers as reward for their hard work? We must start to change this culture, and develop supportive training and career progression irrespective of gender or ethnicity."

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