Women in Medical Academia are Less Likely than Men to Publish in Top Journals

Zhifei Zeng ’23

Figure 1: Stony Brook University research team investigates gender differences in first authorship in top medical journals

Even with all the calls for gender equality today, it still happens that women may have to work harder to achieve the same success or reputation as men. Studies show that women are less likely to attain the rank of Associate or Full Professor, and the time to advance in rank is longer for women. In 2017, Lancet, a high-impact general medical journal, called for an investigation into gender-based inequalities. In response, a team led by A. Laurie W. Shroyer at Stony Brook University investigated gender differences in authorship in medical research journals. They found that although the number of female physicians has steadily increased over the past few decades, women who publish as first authors in top medical journals are still outnumbered by men.

Researchers randomly selected 10,436 articles published between 2002 and 2019 from three high-impact medical journals—New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and Lancet—and recorded author and literature information. Each author’s gender was then identified from their biographies, pronouns, names, and photos on the Internet. Finally, the researchers compared the publication rates of women versus men within each journal using generalized estimating equations. The results showed that 26.82% of first authors across all three journals were women: 15.83% for NEJM, 29.38% for Lancet, and 35.39% for JAMA. These percentages remained stable between 2002 and 2019, implying no improvement in women first authorship rates over this period (p < 0.001). Low first authorship rates suggest that female researchers are more likely to face a glass ceiling. Additionally, by comparing information on first and last authors, the researchers found that first/last author teams of the same gender published more than first/last authors of a different gender, suggesting that the connections young women make with senior women may help women’s career development.

This study reminds us of large gender disparities that have persisted in medical academia for decades. Even with increased awareness of gender equality, female medical researchers still face an academic ceiling that impedes authorship in top weekly publications. The authors underscored a need for greater transparency among editorial boards as well as investigation into implicit bias in academic institutions. Fortunately, collaboration between senior women and more junior female researchers may improve future strategies for gender balance. However, we still have a long way to go in advancing gender equality.

Works Cited:

[1] J. Krstacic, et al., Academic medicine’s glass ceiling: author’s gender in top three medical research journals impacts probability of future publication success. PLoS One 17, (2022). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0261209.

[2] Image retrieved from:



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