Gender bias is pervasive within state medical board official documents and websites

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“Each licensee shall furnish the board his current address.” “When a practitioner is closing, selling, or relocating his practice, he shall meet the requirements.” “The practitioner shall retain in his records.” When it came time to renew my Virginia state medical license, I noticed something troubling – a complete lack of gender equality in physician licensure application language.

However, my state medical board was not an anomaly. I conferred with my colleague and friend from medical school and, on our cursory review, found that 15 of 50 states (30 percent) had similar language pervading their websites and official documentation: Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming. This was despite updates within the past five years from each state, while some, such as Delaware, Idaho, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia, had been updated just six months prior.

Although some states proactively removed exclusionary gender language, others, such as Louisiana, implemented a footnote suggesting that “masculine terms” such as he/him/his should “also be deemed to include the feminine.” However, a footnote fails to address the underlying issue.

While eliminating discriminatory language is the first step, we must also seek to fundamentally address gender inequality within these governing organizations because, at present, even the ruling bodies of these institutions are responsible for gender discrimination, with documents from the Wyoming State Board of Medicine stating that the executive director or his designee determines if a licensure interview is required.

In 2019 the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted Principles for Advancing Gender Equity in Medicine as an official policy, calling on state and specialty societies to work towards eliminating gender discrimination and bias. However, there is still a long way to go. Revamping the language of licensing organizations, at a bare minimum. Gender equality is worth the effort.

In our quest for change, we have written to each of the licensing boards, urging them to amend their gender language. We also invite others to join us in our pursuit of a medical community that outwardly endorses gender equality across all subspecialties and at all levels of training and leadership. By reshaping our language and that of our medical boards, we hope that this may serve as a stepping stone towards gender equality in medicine.

Daniel J. Cognetti is an orthopedic surgeon. Heather Kagan is an internal medicine physician.


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