Although a number of potential barriers to women’s success in academic careers have been described,6,8,16,25–29 ours is the first study to find a gender difference in self-assessed competency (self-efficacy) among physicians in the knowledge and skills required to become a clinical investigator. Previous studies have shown that gender differences exist in self-assessed abilities to perform various tasks30–33and that self-efficacy is an important factor in determining career decisions, persistence in a career, and one’s perceived abilities to overcome barriers to career development.17–19
The clinical research workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was designed to promote interest in clinical research careers. Self-efficacy increased for both men and women after the workshop, a factor important for sustaining career interest.20 A surprising finding of our study is that while both women and men rated themselves higher on the objectives after the workshop than they did before their training, the gender differences were more pronounced after the workshop. There are several possible explanations for our findings. Previous studies have shown that while men tend to overrate their abilities to perform various tasks, women tend to underrate them.31 Furthermore, men may resist acknowledging their weaknesses owing to fears of threatened self-identity because work is so strongly related to their self-identity.34
Our findings might indicate that the workshop’s format better serves men’s educational needs than women’s. Sullivan35 reported that a career development intervention incorporating performance accomplishments, explicit experiences, emotional excitement, and verbal persuasion increased career decision making self-efficacy and commitment in 61 college-age women. Hugo36 and Mott27 recommend that teaching practices be adapted to promote women’s thinking by including experiential forms of learning, such as modeling, apprenticeship, and teamwork. At our institution, trainees are exposed to very few women physicians performing scientific research. This paucity of women role models may contribute to lower self-efficacy for women in demonstrating laboratory skills. In the workshop, none of the principal investigator speakers were women. This factor may have contributed to women’s lower self-efficacy in their abilities to give oral research presentations.
Many women investigators assume family responsibilities coincident with research career development,29,37 which may explain the significantly lower self-ratings reported by women for two objectives. One objective that was rated significantly lower for women than for men before the workshop and became more significant after the workshop was spending sufficient time developing and advancing one’s expertise and research. Furthermore, time may be a factor that contributes to the second objective found to be statistically significant after the workshop: “plan and adhere to a timeline.…” The family–professional role conflict that many women face combined with an absence of professional role models in our training program suggests important ways to focus program planning and future research. Plans are underway to predominantly use women presenters at a future workshop to determine how this influences responses in this assessment. Qualitative studies could also help unveil variables that influence existing barriers, such as time, for both women and men developing clinical research careers.
Our study had several limitations. Our findings are limited to one institution and a predominately European-American population. The distribution of men and women at different levels of training varied, although our analyses were controlled for postgraduate year. Flores and O’Brien21 and Luzzo and McWhirter22 reported that women of ethnic minorities tend to perceive more barriers to career development; therefore, they have lower self-efficacy compared with European-American women. Additional research is needed to extend the generalizability of our findings and further explore the role of self-efficacy in physicians’ career selection. Plans are in progress to expand our studies to include clinical researchers from other institutions, particularly those that have larger populations of underrepresented minorities.
In summary, a previously unexplored gender difference in self-perceived competency (self-efficacy) may indicate an additional barrier women face in academic career development. Given the large number of women entering medical schools, educational program planning models attending to gender differences in adult learning and career development should be investigated as an effective strategy to increase the number of physician–scientists.
1.Kelley WN, Randolph MA (eds). Careers in Clinical Research: Obstacles and Opportunities. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1994.
2.Nathan D. Clinical research: perceptions, reality, and proposed solutions. JAMA
5.National Science Foundation. Women, Minorities, and Persons With Disabilities in Science and Engineering. Arlington, VA: 2000. Report No. NSF 00–327.
6.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health. Women in Biomedical Careers: Dynamics of Change, Strategies for the 21st Century (Full Report). Washington, DC: 1995. DHHS Publication No. 95-3565.
7.Increasing Women’s Leadership in Academic Medicine. Washington, DC: Association of American Medical Colleges, 1998.
8.Department of Health and Human Services. Council on Graduate Medical Education: Fifth Report. Women and Medicine. Washington, DC: Public Health Services Health Resources and Services Administration, 1995.
9.United States Public Health Service Office on Women’s Health. Action Plan for Women’s Health. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Social Services, 1991. Report No. 91–50214.
10.NIH Director’s Panel on Clinical Research. Report presented to the Advisory Committee to the Director of the NIH. Washington, DC: National Institutes of Health; December 8, 1997.
11.The American College of Physicians. Comprehensive Women’s Health Care: the role and commitment of Internal Medicine. Am J Med
12.Rosenberg L. Physician-Scientists: endangered and essential. Science
13.Cadman E. The academic physician-investigator: a crisis not to be ignored. Ann Intern Med
14.Schrier R. Ensuring the survival of the clinician-scientist. Acad Med
15.Martin J. Academic health centers: vulnerabilities in 1995 and beyond. Arch Intern Med
16.Carnes M, Vandenbosche G, Agatisa P, Hirshfield A, Dan A, Shaver J. Using women’s health research to develop women leaders in academic health sciences: the national centers of excellence in women’s health. J Womens Health Gend Based Med
17.Lent R, Brown S, Hackett G. Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. J Vocat Behav
18.Lent R, Brown S, Hackett G. Contextual supports and barriers to career choice: a social cognitive analysis. J Couns Psychol
19.Zimmerman B. Self-efficacy and educational development. In: Bandura A (ed). Self-efficacy in Changing Societies. 1st ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995:202–31.
20.Nauta M, Kahn J, Angell J, Cantarelli E. Identifying the antecedent in the relation between career interests and self-efficacy: is it one, the other, or both? J Couns Psychol
21.Flores L, O’Brien K. The career development of Mexican American adolescent women: a test of social cognitive career theory. J Couns Psychol
22.Luzzo D, McWhirter E. Sex and ethnic differences in the perception of educational and career-related barriers and levels of coping efficacy. J Couns Dev
23.Bland C, Schmitz C, Stritter F, Henry R, Aluise J. Successful Faculty in Academic Medicine: Essential Skills and How to Acquire Them. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1990.
24.Bakken L. An evaluation plan to assess the process and outcomes of a learner-centered training program for clinical research. Med Teach
25.Valian V. Women in academia. In: Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000:217–50.
26.Bierema L. Women, work, and learning. New Dir Adult Contin Educ
27.Mott V. Women’s career development in midlife and beyond. In: Bierema L (ed). Women’s Career Development Across the Lifespan: Insights and Strategies for Women, Organizations, and Adult Educators. 80th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998:25–34.
28.Inman P. Women’s career development at the glass ceiling. In: Bierema L (ed). Women’s Career Development Across the Lifespan: Insights and Strategies for Women, Organizations, and Adult Educators. 80th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers; 1998:35–42.
29.Stalker J. Athene in academe: women mentoring women in the academy. Int J Lifelong Educ
30.Beyer S. Effects of gender and depression on self-evaluations of performance on academic tasks. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society, Washington, DC, July 1994.
31.Beyer S. Self-consistency and gender differences in the accuracy of self-evaluations. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Society, Washington, DC, August 14–18, 1992.
32.Hackett G, Campbell N. Task self-efficacy and task interest as a function of performance on a gender-neutral task. J Vocat Behav
33.Campbell N, Hackett G. The effects of mathematics task performance on math self-efficacy and task interest. J Vocat Behav
34.Valian V. Effects on the self. In: Why So Slow? Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2000:152–8.
35.Sullivan K, Mahalik J. Increasing career self-efficacy for women: evaluating a group intervention. J Couns Dev
36.Hayes E, Flannery D, Brooks A, Tisdell E, Hugo J. Women as Learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000.
37.Foster S, McMurray J, Linzer M, Leavitt J, Rosenburg M, Carnes M. Results of a gender climate survey from a midwest academic medical school. Acad Med