Do women make better physicians?

By Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published August 22, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Results from more than 30 years of research support the argument that patients seen by female doctors receive better quality of care.

  • Studies show that female physicians have better patient outcomes, better screening rates, and lower mortality rates vs male physicians.

  • These studies show how important it is to support the clinical careers of women in medicine, including calls for greater flexibility in the clinical workplace, as well as workplace and training environments that are more welcoming to women. 

For years, my patients had told me that women make better physicians. When I came upon a study that supported the assertion, I was still surprised. 

Finally, there was evidence to support what so many anecdotes had pointed toward: Female physicians have better patient outcomes—at least in certain specialties across certain patient populations. 

Better health outcomes

"In my opinion, this should be discussed more often—both in training programs and in the clinical workplace."

Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP

The fact that this conversation is often avoided among healthcare professionals is all the more disconcerting, as the results from peer-reviewed studies are remarkably consistent.

One example is a study released in JAMA Internal Medicine that compared hospital mortality and readmission rates for Medicare patients treated by male vs female internists.[] More than 1.5 million hospitalizations were included in the analysis. Here’s what they found:

Patients treated by female physicians had lower 30-day mortality and readmission rates vs those treated by male physicians at the same hospital. 

The researchers also found that these differences “persisted across 8 common medical conditions and across patients’ severity of illness.”

When I looked into this issue further, I discovered that several prior studies existed, with similar conclusions.

Better quality of care

Nearly 20 years ago, Kim and colleagues released their findings in Diabetes Care in a study examining the association between physician gender and the quality of care for diabetes.[] They found that patients of female physicians were slightly more likely to have their lipids and A1c measured. They were also more likely to have an LDL <130 mg/dL.

Berthold and colleagues released similar findings in the Journal of Internal Medicine.[] Their cross-sectional study included 51,053 outpatients with type 2 diabetes who were treated by 3,096 office-based physicians. Results showed that the patients of female physicians more often achieved target values for glycemic control, lipids, and blood pressure. Female physicians’ patients were also more likely to receive guideline-directed medical therapy. 

Based on these findings, the study authors concluded, “Female physicians provide an overall better quality of care, especially in prognostically important risk management.”

Finally, there was a cross-sectional study conducted by Baumhäkel and colleagues in the European Journal of Heart Failure.[] The researchers found that “guideline-recommended drug use and achieved target doses [of heart failure medications] tended to be higher in patients treated by female physicians.”

Better screening

Even earlier studies from the 1990s have shown that preventive care measures tend to be more routinely implemented by female physicians.

For example, a 1993 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that female patients were more likely to undergo screening with Pap smears and mammography if their physician was a female.[] This was particularly true if the physician was an internist or family practitioner. The differences were less pronounced in patients seen by OB/GYNs.

In addition, a 1996 study published in the Archives of Family Medicine found that female physicians conduct more systematic patient counseling about preventive measures than male physicians do.[]

Practical implications

"We now have at least 30 years of evidence of the value of women physicians, and the results seem to speak for themselves."

Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP

 Indeed, the amount of evidence is overwhelming at this point—more than what could be covered in a single article.

What this means for you

The results of these studies have important implications for the need to support the clinical careers of women in medicine, including calls for greater flexibility in the clinical workplace and a focus on workplace and training environments that are more welcoming to women physicians. Such changes would benefit physicians and patients alike, regardless of gender.

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