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#WomenInRheumatology: Is there a speaker gender gap at ACR Meetings?

  • Kanika Monga, MD
09 November 2019

There are proportionately more male than female physicians across most medical specialties in Canada and the U.S. despite the current gender parity in medical school. Based on data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, 48% of all medical graduates in 2018-2019 were female yet only 36% of active physicians are women.1, 2 Why is that? Many factors can contribute but a limited number of role models, sponsors, and mentors would perpetuate the gap further. 

Recent studies have quantified the gender gap among speakers at academic conferences. The largest study of 181 medical conferences held in North America over one decade found an increase in the proportion of female speakers from 25 to 34% over time, and that the underrepresentation of women was more marked at surgical compared to medical conferences.3 

More than ever before, it is essential that we remain cognizant of the changing workforce. While in 2015, 40.8% of the rheumatology workforce was female, the ACR’s workforce study predicted that that number would increase to 57% by 2020.4 Inspired by research conducted by other specialties, especially by Dr. Duma et al for the American Society of Cancer and Oncology, Dr. Jean Liew and I collaborated on a project for rheumatology that seeks to determine the proportion of female speakers at the ACR annual meeting. Using the ACR session tracker between 2017 and 2018, we determined the proportions of women for each speaker and moderator slot. We further categorized by basic versus clinical science presentation, and by type of session (pre-meeting, ACR general session, AHRP general session, abstracts, workshop, study group, and Meet the Professor). 

Although there was a greater proportion of female speakers in the clinical (45.8%) vs basic sciences (40.5%) presentations, compared to data from other specialties, the gender gap at recent ACR meetings was narrower with the overall mean proportion being 44.9% over the last two years. Even from 2017 to 2018 the gap had improved from 42.8% to 47%. This reflects the excellent effort of the American College of Rheumatology in closing the gap. As recently tweeted by Dr. Victoria Shanmugam, 49.1% of presenters and moderators at #ACR19 will be women!


  1. Association of American Medical Colleges, Data and Analysis, Total Graduates by U.S. Medical School and Sex, 2002-2018. Available at

  2. Distribution of Allopathic Medical School Graduates by Gender. (2019, August 5). Retrieved from

  3. Ruzycki SM, Fletcher S, Earp M, Bharwani A, Lithgow KC. Trends in the Proportion of Female Speakers at Medical Conferences in the United States and in Canada, 2007 to 2017. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(4):e192103. doi:

  4. Battafarano, D. F., Ditmyer, M., Bolster, M. B., Fitzgerald, J. D., Deal, C., Bass, A. R., Monrad, S. U. (2018, March 29). 2015 American College of Rheumatology Workforce Study: Supply and Demand Projections of Adult Rheumatology Workforce, 2015–2030. Retrieved from