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Letters to the Editor

The Gender Gap in Medical Eponyms: A USMLE Step 1 Content Analysis

MacLean, Sarah A.

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003204

To the Editor:

The debate is ongoing regarding the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1, whether it should be scored numerically or as pass/fail, and its importance in residency selection.1 Regardless of any possible changes, the “Step 1 Climate” in preclinical medical education will remain for some time, with students “memorizing, word-for-word, the nearly 700-page book, First Aid for the USMLE Step 1” in preparation for the exam.2

About 6 months ago, while studying for Step 1 and attempting to memorize the symptoms of both Ménétrier’s Disease and Ménière’s Disease, I began wondering just how many medical terms are eponyms of women. First Aid,3 the “bible” of preclinical medical education, provided a tool to complete a cross-sectional analysis of medical eponyms.

I combed through the index of First Aid (2019) and found all the nouns named for humans. I then did a lot of searching on the Internet to determine if each one was named for a male or female who discovered it. I removed from the list a few terms that were named for patients or fictional characters. Of note, I gave up searching for a few (e.g., Regan-Lowe medium) after extensive efforts did not yield a gender. Also, the Internet can only be trusted so much.

I found 360 terms named for 431 people. Among these, 418 (96.98%) were male and 13 (3.02%) were female. Only 6 were named solely for women. Of note, the vast majority were white (Supplemental Digital Appendix 1 at

Three percent is a very small number. Of course, women now make up at least 45% of medical residents,4 so some may argue that the gender gap is purely a historical issue. Visibility matters, however. When young girls and people of color try to enter a field with a history so clearly dominated by white men, it makes it that much harder for them to succeed.

I send my heartfelt thanks to every person on this list who made a discovery for medicine, but we must do better to actively support diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines.

Sarah A. MacLean
Third-year student, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York;


1. Rozenshtein A, Mullins ME, Marx MV. The USMLE Step 1 pass/fail reporting proposal: The APDR position. Acad Radiol. 2019;S10766332(19)302983.
2. Chen DR, Priest KC, Batten JN, Fragoso LE, Reinfeld BI, Laitman BM. Student perspectives on the “Step 1 Climate” in preclinical medical education. Acad Med. 2019;94:302–304.
3. Le T, Bhushan V, Sochat M, Chavda Y. First Aid for the USMLE Step 1 2019. 2019.New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.
4. Association of American Medical Colleges. Report on residents, Table 3B3: Number of active residents, by type of medical school, GME specialty, and sex. Accessed February 25, 2020.

Supplemental Digital Content

Copyright © 2020 by the Association of American Medical Colleges