INTRODUCTION: The underrepresentation of women among senior faculty in medical education is a longstanding problem. The purpose of this international qualitative investigation was to explore women and men's experiences of attaining full professorship and to investigate why women remain underrepresented among the senior faculty ranks.
METHODS: Conducted within a social constructionist orientation, our qualitative study employed narrative analysis. Two female and two male participants working in medical education were recruited from five nations: Australia, Canada, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States. All participants held an MD and/or PhD. During telephone interviews, participants narrated the story of their careers. The five faculty members on the research team were also interviewed. Their narratives were included in analysis, rendering their experiences equal to those of the participants.
RESULTS: 24 full professors working in medical education were interviewed (n=15 female, n=9 male). While some aspects were present across all narratives (i.e., personal events, career milestones, and facilitating/impeding factors), participants' experience of those aspects differed by gender. Men did not narrate fatherhood as a role navigated professionally, but women narrated motherhood as intimately connected to their professional roles. Both men and women narrated career success in terms of hard work and overcoming obstacles; however, male participants described promotion as inevitable, whereas women narrated promotion as a tenuous navigation of social structures towards uncertain outcomes. Female and male participants encountered facilitators and inhibitors throughout their careers but described acting on those experiences differently within the cultural contexts they faced.
DISCUSSION: Our data suggest that female and male participants had different experiences of the work involved in achieving full professor status. Understanding these gendered experiences and their impact on career progression is an important advancement for better understanding what leads to the underrepresentation of women among senior faculty in medical education.