Purpose: Gender bias exists in patient treatment, and, like most people, health care providers harbor gender stereotypes. In this study, the authors examined the gender stereotypes that medical students hold about patients.
Method: In 2005, in Umeå, Sweden, the authors collected 81 narratives written by patients who had undergone cancer treatment; all information that might reveal the patients’ gender was removed from the texts. Eighty-seven medical students read 40 or 41 narratives each, guessed the patient’s gender, and explained their guess. The authors analyzed the students’ explanations qualitatively and quantitatively to reveal the students’ gender stereotypes and to determine whether those stereotypes had any predictive value for correctly guessing a patient’s gender.
Results: The students’ explanations contained 21 categories of justifications, 12 of which were significantly associated with the students guessing one gender or the other. Only three categories successfully predicted a correct identification of gender; two categories were more often associated with incorrect guesses.
Conclusions: Medical students enter their training program with culturally shared stereotypes about male and female patients that could cause bias during their future careers as physicians. To prevent this, medical curricula must address gender stereotypes and their possible consequences. The impact of implicit stereotypes must be included in discussions about gender bias in health care.