The field of rheumatology is undergoing a transformation from a specialty whose members are overwhelmingly male to a specialty that is overwhelmingly female. This metamorphosis requires a close look at gender issues, including disparities, which must be addressed to accommodate the emerging trend and to protect the future workforce.
Gender issues are important considerations in evaluating any profession, but in the field of rheumatology today, the marked ongoing change in gender distribution is a dominant demographic factor that shapes the field’s current makeup and the future rheumatology workforce.
Facts and Figures
What is the gender makeup of the field of rheumatology today? Abby Abelson, MD, chair of the ACR Committee on Training and Workforce issues and chair and education program director at the department of rheumatology and immunologic disease at the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, cited the current gender distribution statistics as well as other ACR membership demographic facts in her presentation, “Gender Issues in the Rheumatology Workforce” at the 2011 ACR/ARHP Annual Scientific Meeting on November 8, 2011, in Chicago:
- 67% of the membership is male.
- 33% of the membership is female.
- The average age of today’s working rheumatologists is 52 years.
Predictions for the future, however, reveal a pending change for the field. The 2011 gender distribution of fellows in training was 34% male and 66% female. These figures also hold true for those applying for fellowship. In addition, a large number of rheumatologists now working are approximately 59 years old—the baby boomer generation—and many will be retiring over the next 10 years. The group replacing the retirees—now about 44 years old—has an almost equal distribution of men and women. Thus, natural attrition and the gender distribution of the current enrollment will result in an increase of women in the workforce and in the ACR membership within the next two decades.
Some think that the shift will occur even sooner than the predicted 20 years. “In the past five years, more women than men have entered the field, and within 10 years, women may dominate the field in leadership positions,” states Mary Crow, MD, physician in chief at the Hospital for Special Surgery and chief of the division of rheumatology at Weil Cornell Medical College in New York City. “Some women are doing fantastically well in the field.”
Explaining the Shift
Why is this shift occurring? Schedule flexibility and the lack of frequent, if any, emergencies in this field allow rheumatologists to plan their workdays. This kind of flexibility permits a workable integration of professional and personal schedules. “The field of rheumatology is more family friendly than some subspecialties and, thus, is attractive to women—and men—who are interested in a work–life balance,” says Michelle Kahlenberg, MD, PhD, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who completed fellowship training in 2011.