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Researchers: more women physicians likely to choose pediatric subspecialties


Concerns among health care analysts that the majority of pediatricians in training are now women and that that might cause shortages in the future in pediatric subspecialties appear to be almost entirely unfounded, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study concludes.

Unlike in the past, women pediatricians are increasingly likely to enter subspecialties, researchers discovered, saying that the news is reassuring.

"This shows that women are breaking into the glass ceiling in more areas," said Dr. Michelle Mayer, research associate at UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. "Pediatrics appears to be a field with great opportunities for women."

Mayer also is a faculty member in health policy and administration at the UNC School of Public Health.

"For nine of the 16 pediatric medical subspecialties we studied, the percentages of board-certified women were significantly greater among younger pediatricians than among older ones," she said. "Subspecialties that remain predominately male among the younger group include cardiology, critical care medicine, gastroenterology, pulmonary and sports medicine."

A report on the study appeared recently in the journal Pediatrics. Along with Mayer, Dr. John S. Preisser, research associate professor of biostatistics in public health, carried out the study. Their work involved analyzing extensive board certification data from the American Board of Pediatrics and dividing the doctors listed into older and younger groups as part of that analysis.

According to information supplied by the board, the number of women choosing to become pediatricians is rising. In 2003, data showed that 63 percent of pediatricians seeking certification were women, Mayer said. Because women doctors in past decades were more likely to practice general pediatrics than to work in subspecialties, concerns developed about the future supply of doctors in some disciplines.

In their research, Mayer and Preisser reviewed 17 pediatric subspecialties and found women dominated several: adolescent medicine, developmental and behavioral medicine and neurodevelopment. More than 70 percent of practitioners in those areas were women.

The two also found significant increases in the number of women doctors who chose to work in cardiology, critical care, endocrinology, gastroenterology, hematology, oncology, infectious disease, neonatology and nephrology.

"Women are increasingly represented among pediatric medical subspecialties," Mayer and Preisser wrote. "The few remaining male-dominated pediatric medical subspecialties may need to factor the changes in the composition of the overall pediatric workforce into their recruitment strategies and manpower projections."

Support for the study came from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

David Williamson | EurekAlert!
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