In Pursuit of the MD: The Impact of Role Models, Identity Compatibility, and Belonging Among Undergraduate Women
Women continue to face gender-related challenges in the medical field in places around the world where it has traditionally been male-dominated, including in the U.S. In an online experimental study with women attending a mid-sized public university in the Northeastern U.S. (N = 55) who were interested in pursuing a pre-medical track (being pre-med) as undergraduates, we explored the mechanisms involved in undergraduate women’s pursuit of a career as a physician, focusing on three factors: exposure to successful female physician role models, perceived identity compatibility between being a woman and being pre-med, and sense of belonging in pre-med. Participants were randomly assigned to an experimental condition in which they were exposed to information about successful female physicians, or to a control condition in which no information about female physicians was provided. First, as hypothesized, participants exposed to successful female physicians reported higher perceived identity compatibility, sense of belonging, and interest in a medical career compared to those in the control condition. Second, also as hypothesized, perceived identity compatibility mediated the effect of role models on sense of belonging, and sense of belonging mediated the relationship between perceived identity compatibility and interest in a medical career. This study highlights three key factors in women’s pursuit of a career as a physician and the process through which these factors may operate. Findings support the use of role models to set a positive psychosocial process in motion that can support women’s persistence in medicine.