Cut! Medical gender stereotypes perpetuated in Hollywood movies


By Geir O'Rourke

4 Sep 2023

When it comes to doctors on the big screen women are still a marginal minority in the medical profession, at least according to the movie industry which portrays one female doctor for every four male doctor roles.

The figure is from a study examining the gender breakdown of physician characters depicted in the past three decades’ of US movies, highlighting that gender stereotypes remain entrenched in Hollywood, its authors say.

The study included 1226 US movies released between 1990 and 2020, with 2295 doctor-characters in total, based on a search of the IMBd movie database.

Of those fictional doctors, just 18.6% were women, while 71.5% only had doctors which were men.

Some 99 movies featured a doctor-character in the lead role, but in these only 22 of these were women, the researchers reported in JAMA Internal Medicine (link here).

In addition, 90% of these lead characters were White, the authors noted.

“Meanwhile, the number of women who are medical professionals in the US has grown considerably, with women now comprising one-half of all medical students (and >40% during the study period) and steadily higher proportions of physicians (18.8% in 1992, 30.4% in 2010, and 36.3% in 2019),” they wrote.

“Addressing the cinematic representation of women in the physician role may be instrumental in reversing entrenched stereotypes.”

“Further research to evaluate the representation of members of specific racial and ethnic minority groups and individuals within the spectrum of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities would also be valuable.”

The study did show the proportion of movie doctors who were women had improved over the years, from 16.6% in 1990-99 up to 20.8% in 2010-20. But the rate of change was slow, at only 2% per year.

And interestingly, movies rated ‘R’ were more likely to feature a female doctor those rated ‘G’ or ‘PG’, they said.

On multivariable analysis, those movies with multiple doctors as well as those with more women writers also had a higher probability of including at least one woman doctor-character.

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