To the Editor:
Early-career (EC) female physician–scientists are an endangered group within the physician workforce. Caregiving responsibilities contribute to gender disparities for this group, 1 and the sudden loss of caregiving support during the COVID-19 pandemic is an exacerbating stressor. To retain EC female physician–scientists in academic medicine during this unprecedented time, immediate action is required by professional organizations, academic institutions, and funding agencies.
The pandemic has disproportionately impacted female scientists, with the greatest decline in time spent on research observed among female scientists with young children. 2 With less time to devote to research, findings that female scientists with children have been less productive are not surprising. 3,4 Furthermore, productivity of Black female scientists, with and without children, was particularly affected during COVID-19. 4 This is concerning since EC Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) female physician–scientists were already navigating systemic racism in academia, and are now challenged with the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on their communities amid police violence and racial uprisings.
Before the pandemic, scientific workgroups identified solutions to improve female physician–scientist recruitment and retention for professional organizations, academic institutions, and funding agencies 5,6 that are particularly relevant during this crisis. As organizations convert conferences to virtual formats, enhancing mentorship opportunities and scientific collaboration through innovative programming is critical given the dearth of female physician–scientists, and the instrumental role of mentorship for this group. Academic institutions should prioritize childcare for those with young dependents who are at risk for research disruptions and should increase access to financial support for research and administrative assistance. Since female BIPOC physicians are more likely to care for vulnerable populations, 7 funding agencies must consider mechanisms to support projects partnered with under-resourced communities disproportionally impacted by COVID-19. At a minimum, funding agencies should automatically stop all “clocks,” such as early investigator status, until the pandemic resolves.
Professional organizations, institutions, and funding bodies must expand policies responsive to factors threatening productivity during COVID-19 so that the already endangered EC female physician–scientist does not become extinct.
1. Jolly S, Griffith KA, DeCastro R, Stewart A, Ubel P, Jagsi R. Gender differences in time spent on parenting and domestic responsibilities by high-achieving young physician-researchers. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160:344–353.
2. Myers KR, Tham WY, Yin Y, et al. Unequal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on scientists. Nat Hum Behav. 2020;4:880–883.
3. Andersen JP, Nielsen MW, Simone NL, et al. COVID-19 medical papers have fewer women first authors than expected. eLife 2020; 9e588807.
4. Staniscuaski F, Kmetzsch L, Zandona E, et al. Gender, race and parenthood impact academic productivity during the COVID-19 pandemic: From survey to action [published online ahead of print July 4, 2020]. bioRxiv. doi:10.1101/2020.07.04.187583.
5. Smith KA, Arlotta P, Watt FM, Solomon SL; Initiative on Women in Science and Engineering Working Group. Seven actionable strategies for advancing women in science, engineering, and medicine. Cell Stem Cell. 2015;16:221–224.
6. Hall AK, Mills SL, Lund PK. Clinician-investigator training and the need to pilot new approaches to recruiting and retaining this workforce. Acad Med. 2017;92:1382–1389.
7. Silver JK, Bean AC, Slocum C, et al. Physician workforce disparities and patient care: A narrative review. Health Equity. 2019;3:360–377.