Purpose: To characterize how female medical students perceive the role of gender within their medical education during the transition to the clinical curriculum.
Method: In 2006–2007, the authors conducted a qualitative study consisting of in-depth interviews with 12 third-year female medical students completing their first clinical clerkship. Participants were purposefully selected from a single New England medical school to represent a range of ages, ethnicities, and prior life experiences.
Results: Participants (1) struggled to define their role on the wards and often defaulted to stereotypical gender roles, (2) perceived differences in the nature of their workplace relationships compared with the nature of male medical students’ workplace relationships, (3) had gendered expectations of male and female physicians that shaped their interactions with clinical supervisors, (4) felt able to negotiate uncomfortable situations with patients but felt unable to negotiate uncomfortable situations with supervisors and attendings, and (5) encountered a “gender learning curve” on the wards that began to shape their self-view as future female physicians.
Conclusions: Despite increased numbers of women in medicine, issues of gender continue to have a substantial impact on the medical education of female students. Institutions can design interventions about gender issues in medicine that expand beyond a focus on sexual harassment to address the complex ways in which students are affected by issues of gender.