Academic medicine has a leaky pipeline for the advancement of women.1 Lack of role models, challenges with work–life balance, frustrations with features of the institutional environment, and the direct effect of implicit bias have emerged as possible explanations for the academic gender gap.1,2,3

A recent study of internal medicine faculty has suggested organizational climate, including faculty’s perceptions and experiences of gender inequities, may also contribute to the gender gap.4 Acknowledgement of such inequities and support to mitigate them has been shown to improve retention for women and minorities.5 This highlights the need for residency programs to better understand trainees’ perceptions and experiences of gender inequities since the biggest leak in the academic pipeline occurs during residency, with women’s interest in academia significantly declining.1

The purpose of this study is to describe internal medicine residents’ perceptions of gender’s effect on their resident colleagues and on their own experiences during residency.


Setting and Sample

We conducted a cross-sectional electronic survey study of the 140 residents in an academic internal medicine residency program, of which 67 identified as female.

Survey Development

Based on a literature review and informal resident focus group, we developed the survey content domains and questions. Questions focused on gender differences in communication, evaluation of clinical performance, and leadership, querying respondents’ witnessing and personally experiencing either more positive or more negative treatment based on gender and gender’s role in overall work experiences. Questions used Likert-type scale responses, with follow-up open-ended questions to invite elaboration. We collected respondent demographics of resident type, year, and gender. We pilot tested the survey among 3 chief residents and 4 clinician educators incorporating their feedback into the final version.


We calculated descriptive statistics, examined survey responses for questions about witnessing different treatment based on gender using the Wilcoxon signed rank sum test, and compared responses between males and females for questions about experiencing different treatments based on gender using the Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon test. We used SAS (version 9.3, SAS Institute, Cary, NC) to conduct analyses. p values < 0.05 were considered statistically significant. To analyze open-ended responses, two authors independently reviewed responses to identify observations highlighting and expanding upon categories from the quantitative questions.

The University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board approved this research.


Seventy residents completed the survey (50% response rate) of which 47% were female (n = 33). Year in training and resident type were similar to overall program distribution.

Residents reported witnessing female residents being treated, on average, more negatively and reported male residents being treated more positively based on their gender in areas of communication and leadership (Table 1).

Table 1 Resident Survey Responses Regarding Their Perceptions of the Effect of Gender on Their Male and Female Resident Colleagues (A) and on Their Own Experiences (B)

There were no significant differences between female and male residents reporting having experienced more positive treatment in any domain because of their own gender. However, there were significant differences with females reporting having been more negatively treated when compared with male respondents in all domains (Table 1).

When asked how gender affects overall work experience (response range “very negatively” = 1 to “very positively” = 5), males reported, on average, a more positive influence of gender than females (mean 3.5 [SD 0.6] vs 2.7 [SD 0.8], respectively, p < 0.001).

Open-ended responses illustrated these differences through descriptions of personal experience and attitudes (Table 2).

Table 2 Representative Quotations from Open-Ended Questions


Our findings suggest that both male and female residents perceive that gender influences their experiences in the workplace. Residents reported witnessing female residents being treated more negatively compared with male residents. Female residents reported experiencing being treated more negatively compared with males because of their gender in multiple domains, while males reported a more positive influence of gender in their overall work experience.

We need gender-integrated residency interventions designed to acknowledge differential experiences based on gender and to teach allyship. Such interventions may promote a positive organizational culture by contributing to a more inclusive workplace, helping to mitigate bias, improving the retention of women in academic medicine, and setting the groundwork for fairness in practice environments after residency.

The generalizability of our findings may be limited as our study is a single-site study and could be influenced by social desirability bias, though open-ended responses support our quantitative findings.