Background For 2 decades, the number of physician-scientists has not kept pace with the overall growth of the medical research community. Concomitantly, the number of women entering medical schools has increased markedly. We have explored the effect of the changing gender composition of medical schools on the present and future pipeline of young physician-scientists.
Methods We analyzed data obtained from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the National Institutes of Health, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute pertaining to the expressed research intentions or research participation of male and female medical students in the United States.
Results A statistically significant decline in the percentage of matriculating and graduating medical students\Mboth men and women\Mwho expressed strong research career intentions occurred during the decade between 1987 and 1997. Moreover, matriculating and graduating women were significantly less likely than men to indicate strong research career intentions. Each of these trends has been observed for medical schools overall and for research-intensive ones. Cohort data obtained by tracking individuals from matriculation to graduation revealed that women who expressed strong research career intentions upon matriculation were more likely than men to decrease their research career intentions during medical school. Medical student participation in research supported the gender gap identified by assessing research intentions. Female medical student participation in the Medical Scientist Training Program and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute/National Institutes of Health-sponsored Cloisters Program has increased but lags far behind the growth in the female population in medical schools.
Conclusion Three worrisome trends in the research career intentions and participation of the nation\'s medical students (a decade-long decline for both men and women, a large and persistent gender gap, and a negative effect of the medical school experience for women) presage a further decline in the physician-scientist pipeline unless they are reversed promptly and decisively.