Aim: During the last decades research has reported seemingly unjustified differences between how women and men are perceived as patients, medical students and physicians. Most studies have been performed outside Scandinavia. The overall aim of this thesis is to illustrate, analyse and discuss aspects of gender bias and gender awareness in clinical medicine, medical research and medical education, all in a Swedish setting.
Material and methods: Physicians’ ways of reasoning and reflecting on different professional arenas were investigated from a gender perspective in three cross-sectional studies: A. Written answers from a national examination for 289 Swedish interns where the examinees were allocated to suggest management of a common health problem - irritable bowel syndrome - in either a male or a female paper-patient with identical case descriptions. B. Assessments from 682 physicians, in structured assessment forms, of the scientific quality of two fictive research abstracts - one with a quantitative and one with a qualitative design – where authorship was assigned to either a woman or a man. C. Answers from 303 physician teachers to a questionnaire where they, on scales, assessed the importance of gender in different professional relationships and also gave open-ended comments.
Most analyses were quantitative, using chi2-tests and multivariate logistic regression as statistical methods. Differences were discussed in relation to gender theory. Qualitative method, by way of open and selective coding, was used to explore the open-ended answers in the questionnaire and to create codes from the written answers in the national exam.
Results: A. There were differences in outcome for male and female cases in history taking and in proposed diagnoses, investigations and treatment, e.g. more questions about and tests for alcohol were suggested for men and more tests for thyroid function for women. Both men and women physicians contributed to the gender bias but showed different patterns. B. The quantitative abstract was judged the same regardless of the gender of the assessor or author. The qualitative abstract was not ranked as scientific as the quantitative, but as more accurate, trustworthy, relevant and interesting with a female author especially by women assessors. C. Men physicians, especially in the surgical group, expressed low awareness of gender compared to women physicians. The qualitative analysis rendered a picture of how the physicians perceive ‘gender’, problems they connect with gender and their attitudes to gender issues. Some important concepts identified were ‘inequity’, ‘difference’, ‘delicate situations’, and ‘resistance’. To get an overview and better understanding of various expressions of gender bias, a theoretical model was developed, on the basis of the findings in the qualitative analysis. The main findings of the thesis are discussed in relation to this model where equity/inequity and sameness/difference are important points of departure.
Conclusions: The findings of gendered outcome in the national exam call attention to ‘knowledge-mediated gender bias’, a phenomenon implying that once knowledge of gender differences in a condition has been established this might cause gender biased assessments of individual patients in the clinical situation. Gender appears to affect scientific evaluations. This has implications for situations where research is assessed and interpreted: in medical tutoring, research guidance, peer reviewing, and in forming evaluation committees for research funding. Physician teachers seem little aware of gender as an area of competence and knowledge and tend to connect gender issues with women. Depending on how ‘difference’ and ‘equity’ are apprehended various forms of resistance to gender emerge, each with plausible bias risks. Educational programmes for faculty members, encouraging continuous reflections on gender attitudes and supporting male participation, are suggested. Besides providing a more comprehensive understanding of patients and their health problems, increased gender awareness among physicians might improve the working climate and help reduce the gendered division of labour in the medical profession.
2004. , 71 p.
Gender, gender bias, gender awareness, physicians, clinical decision-making, research evaluation, medical education, medical teachers, tutors, division of labour