The impact of gendered experiences on female medical students’ specialty choice: A systematic review

  • Author Footnotes
    1 Hypothesis: Gendered experiences throughout female medical students' lives influence the specialty they choose.
    Sana Khan
    1 Hypothesis: Gendered experiences throughout female medical students' lives influence the specialty they choose.
    Detroit Medical Center/Wayne State University School of Medicine, United States
    Search for articles by this author
  • Author Footnotes
    1 Hypothesis: Gendered experiences throughout female medical students' lives influence the specialty they choose.
Published:November 18, 2022DOI:


      • Female-dominated specialties include family medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology.
      • Male-dominated medical specialties maintain higher salaries, prestige, and power in comparison to female-dominated specialties.
      • The gendered division of specialties holds the societal association of women with family and men with the workforce.
      • Female medical student specialty choice is perpetuated by, and contributes to gender inequality in the medical field.



      Women make up 50% of American medical school graduates, yet are not equally represented in the vast spectrum of medical specialties. Many fields within medicine remain male dominated. This systematic review will explore social factors that affect female medical students’ specialty choice.


      Gendered experiences influence the specialty choice of female medical students, resulting in their concentration in a specific cohort of specialties.


      Studies were gathered by searching MEDLINE/Pubmed and EBSCOhost for sociological factors that impact female medical students’ specialty choice.


      34 articles were selected for this systematic review. Factors that contribute to gender segregation within medical specialties include gender discrimination, socialization, lifestyle considerations, negative perceptions of male-dominated medical specialties and lack of female role models.


      This systematic review supported the hypothesis that gendered experiences impact women's medical specialty choice, and thus result in their concentration in specialties such as family medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to The American Journal of Surgery
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Association of American Medical Colleges
        FACTS: applicants and matriculants data.
        • Harris C.A.
        • Biencowe N.
        • Telem D.A.
        What's in a pronoun? Why gender-fair language matters.
        Ann Surg. 2017; 266: 932
        • Lo Sasso A.T.
        • Richards M.R.
        • Chou C.F.
        • Gerber S.E.
        The $16,819 pay gap for newly trained physicians: the unexplained trend of men earning more than women.
        Health Aff. 2011; 30: 193-201
        • Shannon G.
        • Jansen M.
        • Williams K.
        • et al.
        Gender equality in science, medicine, and global health: where are we at and why does it matter?.
        Lancet. 2019; 393: 560-569
        • Association of American Medical Colleges
        2018 Physician Specialty Data Report.
        Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Workforce Studies, 2018 (Google Scholar)
        • Pelley E.
        • Carnes M.
        When a specialty becomes "women's work": trends in and implications of specialty gender segregation in medicine.
        Acad Med. 2020 Oct; 95 (PMID: 32590470; PMCID: PMC7541620): 1499-1506
        • Gargiulo D.A.
        • Hyman N.H.
        • Hebert J.C.
        Women in surgery: do we really understand the deterrents?.
        Arch Surg. 2006; 141: 405-408
        • Acai A.
        • Mahetaji K.
        • Reid S.E.
        • Sonnadara R.R.
        The role of gender in the decision to pursue a surgical career: a qualitative, interview-based study.
        Canad Med Educat J. 2020; 11: e51
        • Kristoffersson E.
        • Diderichsen S.
        • Verdonk P.
        • Lagro-Janssen T.
        • Hamberg K.
        • Andersson J.
        To select or be selected–gendered experiences in clinical training affect medical students' specialty preferences.
        BMC Med Educ. 2018; 18: 1-11
        • Salles A.
        • Awad M.
        • Goldin L.
        • et al.
        Estimating implicit and explicit gender bias among health care professionals and surgeons.
        JAMA Netw Open. 2019; 2 (e196545-e196545)
        • Bucknall V.
        • Pynsent P.B.
        Sex and the orthopaedic surgeon: a survey of patient, medical student and male orthopaedic surgeon attitudes towards female orthopaedic surgeons.
        Surgeon. 2009; 7: 89-95
        • Stratton T.D.
        • McLaughlin M.A.
        • Witte F.M.
        • Fosson S.E.
        • Nora L.M.
        Does students' exposure to gender discrimination and sexual harassment in medical school affect specialty choice and residency program selection?.
        Acad Med. 2005; 80: 400-408
        • Smith V.
        • Bethune C.
        • Hurley K.F.
        Examining medical student specialty choice through a gender lens: an orientational qualitative study.
        Teach Learn Med. 2018; 30: 33-44
        • Babaria P.
        • Abedin S.
        • Berg D.
        • Nunez-Smith M.
        I'm too used to it”: a longitudinal qualitative study of third year female medical students' experiences of gendered encounters in medical education.
        Soc Sci Med. 2012; 74: 1013-1020
        • Ku M.C.
        When does gender matter? Gender differences in specialty choice among physicians.
        Work Occup. 2011; 38: 221-262
        • Fysh T.H.
        • Thomas G.
        • Ellis H.
        Who wants to be a surgeon? A study of 300 first year medical students.
        BMC Med Educ. 2007; 7: 1-5
        • Lefevre J.H.
        • Roupret M.
        • Kerneis S.
        • Karila L.
        Career choices of medical students: a national survey of 1780 students.
        Med Educat. 2010; 44: 603-612
        • Wendel T.M.
        • Godellas C.V.
        • Prinz R.A.
        Are there gender differences in choosing a surgical career?.
        Surgery. 2003; 134: 591-596
        • Knox K.E.
        • Getzin A.
        • Bergum A.
        • McBride P.
        • Rieselbach R.
        • Friedsam D.
        Factors that affect specialty choice and career plans of Wisconsin's medical students.
        Wis Med J. 2008; 107: 369
        • Schroeder J.E.
        • Zisk-Rony R.Y.
        • Liebergall M.
        • et al.
        Medical students' and interns' interest in orthopedic surgery: the gender factor.
        J Surg Educ. 2014; 71: 198-204
        • Roubidoux M.A.
        • Packer M.M.
        • Applegate K.E.
        • Aben G.
        Female medical students' interest in radiology careers.
        J Am Coll Radiol. 2009; 6: 246-253
        • Zener R.
        • Lee S.Y.
        • Visscher K.L.
        • Ricketts M.
        • Speer S.
        • Wiseman D.
        Women in radiology: exploring the gender disparity.
        J Am Coll Radiol. 2016; 13: 344-350
        • Scott I.M.
        • Nasmith T.
        • Gowans M.C.
        • Wright B.J.
        • Brenneis F.R.
        Obstetrics and gynaecology as a career choice: a cohort study of Canadian medical students.
        J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2010; 32: 1063-1069
        • Lempp H.
        • Seale C.
        Medical students' perceptions in relation to ethnicity and gender: a qualitative study.
        BMC Med Educ. 2006; 6: 1-7
        • Sorouri K.
        • Khan S.
        • Bowden S.
        • Searle S.
        • Carr L.
        • Simpson J.S.
        The glaring gender bias in the operating room: a qualitative study of factors influencing career selection for first-year medical students.
        J Surg Educ. 2021; 78: 1516-1523
        • Schnuth R.L.
        • Vasilenko P.
        • Mavis B.
        • Marshall J.
        What influences medical students to pursue careers in obstetrics and gynecology?.
        Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2003; 189: 639-643
        • Foote D.C.
        • Meza J.M.
        • Sood V.
        • Reddy R.M.
        Assessment of female medical students' interest in careers in cardiothoracic surgery.
        J Surg Educ. 2017; 74: 811-819
        • Jagsi R.
        • Griffith K.A.
        • DeCastro R.A.
        • Ubel P.
        Sex, role models, and specialty choices among graduates of US medical schools in 2006–2008.
        J Am Coll Surg. 2014; 218: 345-352
        • Sanfey H.A.
        • Saalwachter-Schulman A.R.
        • Nyhof-Young J.M.
        • Eidelson B.
        • Mann B.D.
        Influences on medical student career choice: gender or generation?.
        Arch Surg. 2006; 141: 1086-1094
        • Heiligers P.J.
        Gender differences in medical students' motives and career choice.
        BMC Med Educ. 2012; 12: 1-11
        • Park J.
        • Minor S.
        • Taylor R.A.
        • Vikis E.
        • Poenaru D.
        Why are women deterred from general surgery training?.
        Am J Surg. 2005; 190: 141-146
        • Lepièce B.
        • Reynaert C.
        • van Meerbeeck P.
        • Dory V.
        Social dominance theory and medical specialty choice.
        Adv Health Sci Educ. 2016; 21: 79-92
        • Matsumoto M.M.
        • Tullius Jr., T.G.
        • Navuluri R.
        Gender-specific factors influencing medical students' career choice of IR.
        J Vasc Intervent Radiol. 2019; 30: 1432-1437
        • Fitzgerald J.E.F.
        • Tang S.W.
        • Ravindra P.
        • Maxwell-Armstrong C.A.
        Gender-related perceptions of careers in surgery among new medical graduates: results of a cross-sectional study.
        Am J Surg. 2013; 206: 112-119
        • Hill E.J.
        • Bowman K.A.
        • Stalmeijer R.E.
        • Solomon Y.
        • Dornan T.
        Can I cut it? Medical students' perceptions of surgeons and surgical careers.
        Am J Surg. 2014; 208: 860-867
        • Gerull K.M.
        • Parameswaran P.
        • Jeffe D.B.
        • Salles A.
        • Cipriano C.A.
        Does medical students' sense of belonging affect their interest in orthopaedic surgery careers? A qualitative investigation.
        Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2021; 479: 2239-2252
        • Baldwin K.
        • Namdari S.
        • Bowers A.
        • Keenan M.A.
        • Levin L.S.
        • Ahn J.
        Factors affecting interest in orthopedics among female medical students: a prospective analysis.
        Orthopedics. 2011; 34: e919-e932
        • Hill E.
        • Bowman K.
        • Stalmeijer R.
        • Hart J.
        You've got to know the rules to play the game: how medical students negotiate the hidden curriculum of surgical careers.
        Med Educ. 2014; 48: 884-894
        • Pelaccia T.
        • Delplanq H.
        • Triby E.
        • et al.
        Gender stereotypes: an explanation to the underrepresentation of women in emergency medicine.
        Acad Emerg Med. 2010; 17: 775-779
        • Larsen A.M.G.
        • Pories S.
        • Parangi S.
        • Robertson F.C.
        Barriers to pursuing a career in surgery: an institutional survey of Harvard Medical School students.
        Ann Surg. 2021; 273: 1120-1126
        • Zhuge Y.
        • Kaufman J.
        • Simeone D.M.
        • Chen H.
        • Velazquez O.C.
        Is there still a glass ceiling for women in academic surgery?.
        Ann Surg. 2011; 253: 637-643
        • Erzurum V.Z.
        • Obermeyer R.J.
        • Fecher A.
        • et al.
        What influences medical students' choice of surgical careers.
        Surgery. 2000; 128: 253-256
        • Moulton C.A.
        • Seemann N.
        • Webster F.
        It's all about gender, or is it?.
        Med Educat. 2013; 47: 538-540
        • Gerull K.M.
        • Loe M.
        • Seiler K.
        • McAllister J.
        • Salles A.
        Assessing gender bias in qualitative evaluations of surgical residents.
        Am J Surg. 2019; 217: 306-313
        • Schmidt L.E.
        • Cooper C.A.
        • Guo W.A.
        Factors influencing US medical students' decision to pursue surgery.
        J Surg Res. 2016; 203: 64-74
        • Collier D.
        • Mahoney J.
        Insights and pitfalls: selection bias in qualitative research.
        World Polit. 1996; 49: 56-91