Medical school research ranking is associated with gender inequality in MSTP application rates

Caitlin J. Bowen, Calvin J. Kersbergen, Olive Tang, Andrea Cox, Mary Catherine Beach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The number of female trainees in MD and biomedical PhD programs has reached near parity with their male counterparts for several years. However, a gender disparity persists for enrollment in Medical Scientist Research Programs (MSTPs). Several studies suggest women underestimate their abilities compared with male colleagues. If this phenomenon applies, we might expect there to be a gender disparity in applicants to MSTPs, which are typically considered more competitive compared to MD or PhD programs. In this report, we explored this hypothesis by evaluating whether female applicants who do apply to MSTP programs disproportionately apply to lower ranking programs when compared to male applicants. Methods: For each institution, we identified their 2016 U.S. News and World Report "Best Medical Schools: Research" ranking and examined trends across rankings using linear regression models, such as relationships between the percentage of female applicants and other factors that may influence where applicants apply. Results: The female applicants who do apply to MSTP programs apply disproportionately to lower ranking programs. Despite this, women seem to have the same success rate for gaining admission to MSTPs, as indicated by matriculation rates across programs, regardless of program rank. Conclusions: Our findings of gender disparity in applications to high-ranking but not low-ranking programs support prior hypotheses that under-confidence or lack of encouragement may drive this inequality. This analysis highlights the need for further systematic studies of gender differences in MSTP applicants and the relationship to career trajectories in order to improve the gender disparity that exists in academic medicine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number187
JournalBMC medical education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 6 2018


  • Academic medicine
  • Gender inequality
  • MD-PhD
  • MSTP
  • Medical school applications

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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