The perception gap: A look into barriers to advancement in academic medicine

UAB researchers examined the lack of representation of women and racial/ethnic minorities in higher levels of academic medicine and created several initiatives to ensure that, moving forward, UAB is part of the solution.
Written by: Jessica Snyder
Media contact: Adam Pope

gap.2Selwyn Vickers, M.D., and Mona Fouad, M.D., MPHA new study from University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers has determined there is a lack of representation of female and racial/ethnic minority faculty at the highest levels of academic medicine.

Within the United States population, 31 percent of people identify as Black/African American or Hispanic/Latino. However, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, this underrepresented in medicine, or URiM, population accounts for only 4.6 percent of full professors and 7.3 percent of department chairs. For women, who make up roughly 50 percent of the population, that number increases to 26 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Because of this lack of representation, Lori B. Bateman, Ph.D., and her team designed a study that examined perceptions surrounding these barriers.

The research team conducted one-on-one interviews with 64 faculty across the UAB School of Medicine — grouped by URiM men, URiM women, majority men and majority women — to explore the differences in perceptions by each group.

“Findings indicate that majority men tended to voice distinctly different perspectives than those in the other three groups, with the most notable differences between majority men and URiM women,” Bateman said. “Majority men tended to suggest the advancement of female and URiM faculty was acceptable or getting better.”

The study calls out a possible reason for this difference: Majority men, who tend to be overrepresented in leadership roles, may not perceive these systemic biases.

“As an academic medical center, we are working to identify and eliminate the disparities that exist in health care — be they racial, socioeconomic or other,” said Selwyn Vickers, M.D., senior vice president and dean of the UAB School of Medicine. “We are working tirelessly to build a system that provides outstanding and equitable health care to all.”

To address unconscious bias in the workplace, the School of Medicine Office for Diversity and Inclusion has created several resources to help address these issues in majority men or women while also developing URiM and female team members. From ODI’s collaboration with the American Medical Women’s Association to host monthly Zoom sessions and its support of the Hispanic/Latinx and Black/African American faculty associations to creation of The Common Thread cultural inclusion modules, UAB School of Medicine is taking strides to lessen systemic biases.

“UAB is at its best when we have a diversity of thought — both in leadership and in our teams,” said Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, senior associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion and senior author of the publication. “To achieve this, we need to better understand the lack of representation of female and URiM faculty at the highest levels of medicine. That is why we created this study, to examine the perceptions of barriers to advancement so that we may begin to address them.”

The School of Medicine ODI efforts were formalized in 2013. The following year, Fouad was appointed as the senior associate dean. Since then, the office has worked in concert with the UAB School of Medicine to create an inclusive environment for all.