Gender Trends in Science and Medical Writing
As a medical writer, I’ve noticed that most medical writers I meet are female. A quick Google search using the keywords‚ “freelance medical writer‚” produced seven female and three male writers (approx. 2:1 ratio) from the first 10 eligible results.1 While it is difficult to draw statistically relevant conclusions from such a small sample size, it certainly implies a trend.
The American Medical Writers Association is the leading professional organization for medical communicators, with over 5,500 members from around the world. The ratio of female to male members is 4449:1227 (approx. 4:1), mirroring the trend observed with the Google search.
In short, medical writing is a predominately female profession.
Some may argue that women are simply better writers than men and therefore better able to communicate complex medical and scientific ideas. But what about renowned male writers like Carl Zimmer and Gary Taubes?
It is possible that different gender trends exist in different subgroups within the medical/science writing community based on expertise (for example, science vs. medical vs. technical writers), target audience (writing for physicians vs. scientists vs. the public) or kind of degree held by the writer (PhD vs. MD).
Another argument is that many women pursue science/medical writing because they drop out or are pushed out of academia. It is no secret that most scientists in the upper echelons of academia are male, and much has been written about the female plight in academia.
Some women, like Pat Shipman, an adjunct professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University, have managed to remain in academia and have a successful science writing career. Other women have chosen one over the other.
Gunjan Sinha, an award-winning female medical writer based in Berlin, suggests that two main reasons why women scientists drop out of academia to pursue alternative careers (like medical writing) are:
- They choose family over career; and
- The proverbial glass ceiling—the institutional barriers that impede their advancement in academia.
I would be interested to know what others think are the reasons why more women choose to communicate about science and medicine (professionally) while more men seem to choose the practical aspects of science and medicine (professionally).
Karen Ventii, PhD is a medical writer based in Atlanta. She formerly blogged at Science to Life.
- Inclusion criteria: individuals (not part of an agency) whose websites clearly define them as a “medical” writer. [↩]
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