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Using Patients’ Narratives to Reveal Gender Stereotypes Among Medical Students

Andersson, Jenny; Salander, Pär MSc, PhD; Hamberg, Katarina MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318295b3fe
Research Reports

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.

Ms. Andersson is a medical intern and PhD student, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Division of Family Medicine, and National School of Gender Studies, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.

Dr. Salander is a specialist in clinical psychology and professor of social work, Department of Social Work, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.

Dr. Hamberg is professor of family medicine and head of professional development, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Division of Family Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden.

Correspondence should be addressed to Ms. Andersson, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Family Medicine, Umeå University, 901 85 Umeå, Sweden; telephone: (+46) 90-7853553; e-mail:

© 2013 by the Association of American Medical Colleges