Women in Health Profession Schools

The health professions have long been characterized by gender disparities. Some professions, such as medicine and dentistry, have historically been dominated by males, while others, such as nursing, have been predominantly female. Over the past several decades, these disparities have narrowed, and in some cases reversed. In 1980–1981, 47.4 percent of pharmacy students were women, while in the fall of 2006, women represented more than 63 percent of pharmacy students. Even in fields where men are still in the majority, the representation of female students has grown. In 1980–1981, only 26.5 percent of medical students were women, compared to nearly one-half (48.8 percent) of students in the fall of 2006. Similar gains have been made in the fields of osteopathic medicine and dentistry, where the most recent data indicate that 49.9 and 44.3 percent of students, respectively, were women, compared to 19.7 and 17.0 percent in 1980–1981.

During the 2006–2007 academic year, female students represented a large majority in graduate public health (70.0 percent) and social work programs (85.6 percent). Nursing, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, also continues to be dominated by women, although the proportion of students who are female is slowly declining. In the 1980–1981 academic year, 94.3 percent of graduate students in nursing programs were female, while in the fall of 2006, females represented 91.2 percent of graduate students in nursing programs. Women also represent a majority of students studying optometry (64.2 percent) and dietetics (91 percent; data not shown). Comparative data for these programs were not available for the 1980–1981 academic year.

Bar graph: Women in Schools for Selected Health Professions, 1980-1981 and 2006-2007 [D]

Back to Top