The participation of women in the field of ophthalmology is lower compared with other surgical specialties, and it continues to decrease, new research from JAMA Ophthalmology shows.

This is the first study of sex demographic trends in ophthalmology that spans from analysis of sex trends in medical schools through those seen in clinical faculty at medical schools, according to researchers. 

Researchers collected the sex demographic data available from 2011 to 2020 in ophthalmology. That data included 2016 to 2019 ophthalmology match applicants, matched applicants and match rates, 2011 to 2019 US residency program participants, 2017 to 2019 faculty rosters, and 2016 to 2019 American Academy of Ophthalmology membership.


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There were more male applicants to ophthalmology programs each year from 2016 to 2019, with a 1.6:1 ratio (2807 ophthalmology applicants, 35.3% women). Female applicants decreased 1 percentage point, from 2016 (40%) to 2019 (39%). Full matches increased from 41% in 2016 to 42% in 2019.

From 2011 to 2019, the percentage of female ophthalmology residents (1,004,563 residents 43.8% women) decreased from 41.5% to 39% while the percentage of female residents across all specialties increased from 43.2% to 43.8%. Female residents in surgical specialties increased from 39.7% to 42%, and those in nonsurgical specialties increased from 44.3% to 44.4%.

The mean percentage of female medical school clinical faculty (463,079 clinical faculty members, 42.5% women) in ophthalmology increased 1% from 2017 (38%) to 2019 (40%). Obstetrics and gynecology had the highest percentage of female medical school clinical faculty (64%), and orthopedic surgery had the lowest (20%). The mean proportion of female clinical faculty in ophthalmology (39%) in 2017-2019 was higher than the mean proportion of female clinical faculty in surgical specialties in the study period (34%) but lower than nonsurgical specialties (45%). 

The ratio of the percentage of male AAO members (78,968 AAO members 26.1% women) in training to the percentage of female members is 1.6:1. The number of men in the AAO is 3 times greater than the number of women. From 2016 to 2019, the proportion of male to female AAO members in training decreased 2% and the proportion of male to female AAO practicing ophthalmologists increased 2%.

“The low number of female medical school clinical faculty coupled with the decreasing percentage of female ophthalmology residents and increasing percentage of female residents in other surgical specialties may suggest that the position of ophthalmology clinical faculty compared with other specialties has the potential to decrease in the coming years,” researchers report.

Study limitations included the exclusion of medical professionals who do not work in academia and that data included individuals who did not disclose their sex.

Reference

Aguwa UT, Srikumaran D, Green LK, et al. Analysis of sex diversity trends among ophthalmology match applicants, residents, and clinical faculty. JAMA Ophthalmol. Published online September 23, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2021.3729