Why are women underrepresented in MD/PhD Programs?

Women made up 38% of MD/PhD students nationwide in 2014, a figure that has plateaued over the past 10 years. In the most recent application cycle, the percentage of female applicants was even lower than that of matriculants. It is easy to speculate that fewer women than men are applying to MD/PhD programs because of the long time commitment or prioritization of work-life balance and family. However, to date no data has been published on women’s actual motivations for choosing another career or program over the MD/PhD track. In addition, researchers have not yet explored the role of mentorship and implicit bias in this gender disparity.

We are developing a new research study to address these unanswered questions. By examining medical school admissions data and surveying MD/PhD students, we will shed light on how women’s experiences and values shape their interest in MD/PhD programs. In a small pilot survey of undergraduates, we asked students if anyone had encouraged or discouraged them from applying to MD/PhD programs. The results, shown below, already suggest a gender disparity. We hope the data we generate will suggest key changes in mentoring and policy that may help close the gender gap.

Undergraduate suvey graph


  • AAMC FACTS. Enrollment, Graduates, and MD/PhD Data
  • The Physician-Scientist Career Pipeline in 2005 (Ley 2005)
  • Sociology. The gender gap in NIH grant applications. (Ley 2008)
  • A gender gap in the next generation of physician-scientists: medical student interest and participation in research. (Guelich 2002)
  • Educational outcomes for students enrolled in MD-PhD programs at medical school matriculation, 1995-2000: a national cohort study. (Jeffe 2014)
  • The emerging physician-scientist workforce: demographic, experiential, and attitudinal predictors of MD-PhD program enrollment. (Jeffe Oct 2014)
  • The other physician-scientist problem: Where have all the young girls gone? (Andrews 2002)
  • How Do Interaction Experiences Influence Doctoral Students’ Academic Pursuits in Biomedical Research? (Kong 2013)