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Women Physicians: Choosing a Career in Academic Medicine

Borges, Nicole J. PhD; Navarro, Anita M. MEd; Grover, Amelia C. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31823ab4a8
Gender Issues

Purpose: Despite recent efforts to understand the complex process of physician career development, the medical education community has a poor understanding of why, how, and when women physicians embark on careers in academic medicine.

Method: In 2010, the authors phone-interviewed women physicians in academic medicine regarding why, how, and when they chose academic medicine careers. Project investigators first individually and then collectively analyzed transcripts to identify themes in the data.

Results: Through analyzing the transcripts of the 53 interviews, the investigators identified five themes related to why women choose careers in academic medicine: fit, aspects of the academic health center environment, people, exposure, and clinical medicine. They identified five themes related to how women make the decision to enter academic medicine: change in specialty, dissatisfaction with former career, emotionality, parental influence, and decision-making styles. The authors also identified four themes regarding when women decide to enter academic medicine: as a practicing physician, fellow, resident, or medical student.

Conclusions: Choosing a career in academic medicine is greatly influenced by the environment in which one trains and by people—be they faculty, mentors, role models, or family. An interest in teaching is a primary reason women choose a career in academic medicine. Many women physicians entering academic medicine chose to do so after or during fellowship, which is when they became more aware of academic medicine as a possible career. For many women, choosing academic medicine was not necessarily an active, planned decision; rather, it was serendipitous or circumstantial.

Dr. Borges is assistant dean for medical education research and evaluation, Office of Academic Affairs, and professor, Department of Community Health, Boonshoft School of Medicine, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.

Ms. Navarro is research analyst, Careers in Medicine, Association of American Medical Colleges, Washington, DC. She was at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, Virginia, when this study began.

Dr. Grover is assistant professor of surgery, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Richmond, Virginia.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Borges, Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, Academic Affairs, 290P White Hall, Dayton, OH 45435-0001; telephone: (937) 775-3196; fax: (937) 775-2842; e-mail:

First published online November 18, 2011

© 2012 Association of American Medical Colleges