Women rarely first or senior authors in cardiology research

Although female authorship in cardiology journals is improving, women continue to be underrepresented in research publications—particularly as first and senior authors, according to an analysis published Dec. 10 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

This disparity is concerning, the authors noted, because research productivity is often considered when promotions are offered within academic medicine. First and senior authorships, in particular, are opportunities for individuals to show they can lead a project.

David Ouyang, MD, with Stanford University Falk Cardiovascular Research Center, and colleagues used the PubMed online database to find 55,085 primary research articles published between 1980 and 2017 in three top cardiology journals—Circulation, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and the European Heart Journal. More than 71,000 unique authors of these papers were identified, 33.1 percent of whom were women.

However, only 26.7 percent of first authors were women and even fewer (19.7 percent) were senior authors, with senior authorship lagging behind first authorship throughout the study period.

Other notable findings include:

  • Only five of the 100 most prolific authors were women.
  • In the 1980s, women were first and senior authors in just 9.5 percent and 5.9 percent of articles, respectively. Those proportions grew to 26.2 percent and 17.4 percent from 2010 to 2017.
  • Articles with female first or senior authors were more likely to have a higher number of female middle authors than papers with men as first or senior authors.

“Over time, there has been an increase in women working at academic medical centers, at higher ranks and in more leadership positions,” Ouyang et al. wrote. “Our analysis suggests that senior female researchers may serve as role models to junior researchers and also contribute to the increasing proportion of female first authors.”

Still, the results highlight a “persistent, but narrowing, gap” in female representation at all levels of cardiology research, the authors said. This trend will likely continue until representation in cardiology as a whole is more equitable. Women eclipsed men in medical school enrollment beginning in 2015, but only about 13 percent of the cardiology workforce is women, including 8.4 percent in interventional cardiology, according to Ouyang and coauthors.

“Despite advances in the representation of women in medical training, women continue to be underrepresented in cardiology, academic medicine, and more specifically, in senior positions within academic medicine,” they wrote. “Identifying disparities in research productivity and acknowledgment can highlight barriers to female representation in academic cardiology leadership, as well as in academic promotion.”