An important goal for medical education today is professional development including gender equality and awareness of gender issues. Are medical teachers prepared for this task? We investigated gender awareness among physician teachers, expressed as their attitudes towards the role of gender in professional relationships, and how it varied with physician gender and specialty. We discuss how this might be related to the gender climate and sex segregation in different specialties.
Questionnaires were sent to all 468 specialists in the clinical departments and in family medicine, who were engaged in educating medical students at a Swedish university. They were asked to rate, on visual analogue scales, the importance of physician and patient gender in consultation, of preceptor and student gender in clinical tutoring and of physician gender in other professional encounters. Differences between family physicians, surgical, and non-surgical hospital doctors, and between women and men were estimated by chi-2 tests and multivariate logistic regression analyses.
The response rate was 65 %. There were differences between specialty groups in all investigated areas mainly due to disparities among men. The odds for a male family physician to assess gender important were three times higher, and for a male non-surgical doctor two times higher when compared to a male surgical doctor. Female teachers assessed gender important to a higher degree than men. Among women there were no significant differences between specialty groups.
There was an interaction between physician teachers' gender and specialty as to whether they identified gender as important in professional relationships. Male physicians, especially from the surgical group, assessed gender important to a significantly lower degree than female physicians. Physicians' degree of gender awareness may, as one of many factors, affect working climate and the distribution of women and men in different specialties. Therefore, to improve working climate and reduce segregation we suggest efforts to increase gender awareness among physicians, for example educational programs where continuous reflections about gender attitudes are encouraged.