Bedside manner 'gives women edge'
Women's better bedside manner makes them more likely than men to pass medical exams, a study suggests. The UK study showed women had the edge over men generally because they were better at communicating with patients and examining them in clinical tests.
The research which looked at gender and racial factors in exams taken by 3,650 candidates also suggested non-white males do least well in these exams.
More white candidates - 75.5% - passed compared to 60.3% of non-whites.
The research looked at candidates taking the MRCP (UK) exam that junior doctors have to pass to become specialist physicians. The study was into the 2003-04 year group.
It was carried out by a team of senior researchers from University College London and led by Dr Neil Dewhurst, the medical director of the examination department of the UK's colleges of physicians which runs the exam.
The colleges wanted to check that the examination was setting the right standard for entry into the profession.
The exam consists of two written papers, both marked by a machine, and an additional clinical test in which candidates are assessed by examiners who are also consultants.
There was no significant gender difference in the results of the written papers.
Women outshone men when assessed on their skills in examining and communicating with patients.
The study found that, overall, they were more than one-and-a-half times (1.69) more likely to succeed than men.
The findings that non-white candidates did less well was consistent with other international research findings showing non-white males performed less well than non-white females, the team said.
The latest study showed the performance of non-white males was less strong in all aspects of the clinical examination.
Poor performance was most marked, however, in communications and ethics assessments.
The researchers also assessed whether there was any indication of examiner bias in the clinical exam.
But they said their analysis of the gender and ethnicity of examiners appeared to have no significant impact on results.
Dr Dewhurst said the results on gender reflected the fact that female candidates out performed males all the way through the education system.
He added: "If we look at medical post-graduate examinations there is usually a gender bias that women are able to perform better in the sorts of examinations we use.
"Women just seem to be better at doing this. They are able to strike up a rapport with the patient more quickly than males.
"That counts an awful lot when you are examining people when there are constraints of time."
On the issue of ethnicity, he pointed out that candidates' place of birth and first language was not taken into account in his research.
He also suggested a student who had not done all his training in the UK might find the exam more difficult than those who had.
He said he thought the reason for the non-whites' lower performance was a problem with the way they were being assessed rather than their overall ability.
"It may be that we are not be measuring these doctors correctly rather than saying their performance across the board is sub-optimal," he added.
As a result the colleges would look at changing the way some of its assessments were carried out, he added.