Gender Bias Still Exists in Health Care

Despite positive nationwide changes in gender expectations, hospital patients still exhibit gender bias in the recognition of lead physicians and nurses, although the numbers are improving. These findings were published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

In this study, researchers used convenience sampling to enroll and survey 150 patients (78 females, 72 males) at a single urban teaching hospital in Miami Beach, Florida. For study eligibility, patients had to have been at least 18 years old and English speaking. Patients were excluded from enrollment if they had an altered mental status, medical instability, or a critical condition. The researchers administered the survey after the nurse, resident physician, and attending physician had examined the patient. Prior to conducting the survey, the health care personnel were prompted to enter the room, introduce himself/herself, detail their exact roles, and write their name on the white board next to the title nurse, resident, or attending physician. After providing standard information (such as gender, race/ethnicity, education level) the participants were asked to recall the gender of their nurse, resident and attending physician. The researchers used measures of frequency and simple linear regression to analyze the survey data.

According to the findings, out of 150 encounters, patients correctly discerned both resident and attending male doctors 76% of the time and both resident and attending female doctors 71.3% of the time. Overall, patients recognized the correct attending physicians 71% of the time, however, the correct recognition of female attending physicians (58.1%; 25/43) was significantly lower than for male attending physicians (75.7%; 82/107; p = 0.010). Moreover, out of 148 nurse encounters, patients recognized their nurse in 87.8% of the encounters, with the identification of female nurses shown to be notably higher than patient recognition of male nurses (77.1%; 27/35; p = 0.01).

Eliminating Gender Stereotypes

“Although a gender bias is still seen to exist against female attending physicians, this bias seems to be lessening in the wake of changing gendered expectations within American culture,” the study authors wrote. “Nevertheless, such changes in gendered expectations appear to be slowly occurring, despite the fact that more people are choosing nongender traditional careers. This continued bias results in a negative impact on patient care, physician satisfaction scores, and overall patient satisfaction.”

In their conclusion, the authors added that their findings “suggest that gendered stereotypes continue to exist in EM despite recent advances in women entering the medical workforce as physicians and males as nurses. Illustrating males as nurses and females as physicians through pictures and videos in the ED may be one way to break down stereotypes from society on nontraditional career gender roles. Further research must be undertaken to understand the implications of implicit gender biases on patient satisfaction, patient compliance, physician burnout, compassion fatigue, and job satisfaction, among other issues.”