Population Characteristics

Women in Health Professions Schools

The health professions have long been characterized by sex 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 gaps have narrowed, and in some cases have disappeared.

In 1980-81, 47.4 percent of pharmacy students were women, while in the fall of 2004 women represented nearly two-thirds (66.5 percent) of the students. Even in fields where men are still the majority, the representation of female students has grown. In 1980-81, only 26.5 percent of medical students were women compared to nearly one-half (48.7 percent) in the fall of 2004. In schools of osteopathic medicine, women now comprise 46.9 percent of total enrollees. Similar gains have been made in the field of dentistry, where 43.2 percent of students were women in 2003-04 compared to only 17.0 percent in 1980-81. By the 2004 school year, female students represented a growing majority in a number of health professions schools, including graduate schools of social work (83.8 percent), physical therapy (77.9 percent), public health (69.6 percent), and optometry (62.2 percent). Women also represent the vast majority of enrollees in dietetics programs-in 2004, 91.1 percent of dietetics students and interns were women. 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 1980-81 academic year, 94.3 percent of nursing students were female, while in the fall of 2004, females represented 90.8 percent of nursing students.

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Women's Health USA 2006 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2006. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006.