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“Knife before wife”: an exploratory study of gender and the UK medical profession

Karen Miller (Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK)
Donna Clark (Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, UK)

Journal of Health Organization and Management

ISSN: 1477-7266

Article publication date: 20 June 2008




The paper aims to explore the increasing feminisation of the medical profession and career progression of women in the medical profession. Furthermore, the paper explores the implications of gender segregation in the medical profession for health service provision.


The paper presents an overview of studies in this area and draws upon primary, empirical research with medical practitioners and medical students. However, unlike most other studies the sample includes male and female participants. The research involved élite interviews and self‐completion questionnaires in order to provide perspectives of both male and female medical practitioners and medical students.


The findings are consistent with those of other studies; that gender discrimination and segregation is still prevalent in the medical profession. But there are significant differences in perceptions between the genders. Moreover, it is concluded that the gendered career structure and organisational culture of the health sector and medical profession create a role conflict between personal and professional lives. The current difficulties in reconciling this role conflict create barriers to the career progression of women in the medical profession.

Research limitations/implications

Further research in this area could include a longitudinal study of medical students and the impact of changes in the design of medical training and career structures to assess whether these changes enable female career progression in the medical profession. Further analysis is needed of gendered practices and career development in specific specialist areas, and the role of the medical profession, NHS and Royal Colleges should play in addressing gender and career progression in medicine.

Practical implications

Gender segregation (vertical and horizontal) in the medical profession will have implications for the attraction, retention and increased shortages of practitioners in hospital and surgical specialities with the resultant economic and health provision inefficiencies.


The paper provides a review of literature in this area, thereby providing a longitudinal perspective of gender and the medical profession. Moreover, the research sample includes both male and female medical practitioners and medical students, which provides perspectives from both genders and from those who have experience within the medical profession and from those beginning their career in the medical profession. The research will be of value to the medical profession, the NHS and Royal Colleges of Medicine.



Miller, K. and Clark, D. (2008), "“Knife before wife”: an exploratory study of gender and the UK medical profession", Journal of Health Organization and Management, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 238-253.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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