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Women make up the majority of U.S. medical students for the first time

There’s some evidence women fare better when seen by female doctors.
USA, New Jersey, Doctor talking to patient in office
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/ Source: TODAY

The future of medical care is increasingly female.

For the first time ever, women now make up the majority of medical students enrolled in U.S. schools, the Association of American Medical Colleges announced this week.

Women comprised 50.5% of all medical school students in 2019. Across applicants and new enrollees, the number of women increased, while the number of men declined.

“The steady gains in the medical school enrollment of women are a very positive trend, and we are delighted to see this progress,” said Dr. David J. Skorton, AAMC president and CEO, in a statement.

Experts saw the trend coming in 2017, when women comprised the majority of first-year medical students for the first time.

It’s a big deal because female patients may have different symptoms than men — even with similar health conditions — and they experience pain differently, but most doctors are trained to identify and treat symptoms in men. TODAY has been covering the problem of sex and gender bias in medicine in our series "Dismissed.”

But there’s some evidence women fare better when seen by female doctors. A study published last year found women were more likely to survive a heart attack when they were treated by a female emergency room physician than a male.

“Women doctors are more aware of the differences because they’re women and they’ve had to access health care themselves and they can see the deficiencies,” said Dr. Janice Werbinski, executive director of the Sex and Gender Women’s Health Collaborative and a clinical associate professor at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine

Another recent study found all patients, men and women, had lower mortality rates and were less likely to have to return to the hospital for more treatment when they were cared for by female doctors.