There are documented differences in the efficacy of medical treatment for pain for men and women. Women are less likely to have their pain controlled and receive less treatment than men. We are investigating one possible explanation for this gender pain gap: that there is a difference in how women and men report their pain to physicians, and so there is a difference in how physicians understand their pain. This paper describes an exploratory study into gendered attitudes towards reporting uncontrolled pain to a physician. This exploratory study provided subjects with a vignette describing a situation in which their pain is not being treated adequately and asked them questions about their attitudes towards self-advocacy and the strategies they would likely use to express themselves. We found that women scored higher than men on measures of patient likelihood to self-advocate. Women also reported intending to use more varied self-advocacy strategies than men. This suggests it is unlikely that patient’s communication styles are to blame for the gender pain gap.
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There are very little data on pain treatment for nonbinary people. This is a gap in the literature which we will not address directly, but it bears noting that while the gender disparity that we seek to explain is well documented, there may be other gender-based pain disparities which are understudied and which nothing here addresses. This is outside of the scope of this study, but is also very important to investigate.
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Thank you to Dr. Michael Nair-Collins for assistance with funding and for guidance in designing and analysing this research.
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Kolmes, S.K., Boerstler, K.R. Is There a Gender Self-Advocacy Gap? An Empiric Investigation Into the Gender Pain Gap. Bioethical Inquiry 17, 383–393 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-020-09993-8
- Pain management
- Gender pain gap
- Patient self-advocacy