The health professions have long been characterized by sex disparities. Some professions, such as medicine and dentistry, have historically been dominated by men, while others, such as nursing, have been predominantly female. Over the past several decades, these gaps have narrowed, and in some cases women outnumber their male counterparts. In 1980-1981, 47.4 percent of pharmacy students were women, while in 2002-2003, women represented the majority at 65.7 percent. Even in fields where men are still the majority, the representation of female students has grown. In 1980-1981, only 26.5 percent of medical students were women compared to 46.7 percent in 2002-2003; in 2002, women represented 44.6 percent of the student body at schools of osteopathic medicine (data not shown). Similar gains have been made in the field of dentistry, where 42.0 percent of students were women in 2002-2003 compared to only 17.0 percent in 1980-1981.

Female students represent the majority in a number of health professions schools, including social work (82.7 percent), public health (68.5 percent), and optometry (58.6 percent, not shown). Women also represent the vast majority of enrollees in dietetics programs—in 2002, 91.2 percent of dietetics students and interns were women. Nursing also continues to be a field dominated by women, although the proportion of students who are female is slowly declining. In the 1980-1981 academic year, 94.3 percent of nursing students were female, while in 2003, females composed 90.8 percent of all master’s-level nursing students.

Graph: Women in Schools for Selected Health Professions[d]