Women Have Substantially Less Influence on Twitter than Men in Academic Medicine

Among health policy and health services researchers, women have half the average number of followers as their male counterparts


Women Have Substantially Less Influence on Twitter than Men in Academic Medicine

Among health policy and health services researchers, women have half the average number of followers as their male counterparts

Newswise — PHILADELPHIA — Women who are health policy or health services researchers face a significant disparity in social media influence compared to their male peers, according to a new study from researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Although the average number of tweets among all researchers tend to be consistent, women trail behind men in follower counts, regardless of how active they are on Twitter. The findings, which hold implications for larger questions around gender disparities in academic medicine, are published today in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“By giving women an accessible and seemingly equitable platform on which to present themselves, some hoped that social media would help level the playing field in academic medicine,” said senior author, Rachel M. Werner, MD, PhD, a professor of General Internal Medicine at Penn Medicine, and the executive director of Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. “However, our study clearly shows that unfortunately women’s voices are less influential, even on Twitter, which suggests social media may in fact have the opposite effect.”

Social media platforms like Twitter are commonly used in academic medicine to promote research and gain visibility among peer networks. Twitter specifically is used frequently among health policy and health services researchers to connect with healthcare decision-makers and increase academic influence, recognition, and promotion.

In the new study, researchers identified twitter users from a sample pool of more than 3,148 speakers and coauthors of research presented at AcademyHealth’s 2018 Annual Research Meeting, the largest academic meeting for health services research. Nearly one-third of the pool – which included individuals with an MD, PhD, or equivalent and who worked as an independent non-trainee-level researcher in the United States – were found to be active on Twitter. Using Twitter’s Application Program Interface, the team extracted metrics on twitter use for each individual.

Results showed that while the women followed a similar number of people and posted a similar number of tweets per year as their male colleagues, tweets posted by women generated 45 percent fewer average likes and 48 percent fewer retweets per year compared to men, and their accounts also accumulated half as many followers. Disparities were most pronounced among those with full professorships.

Despite what the authors say are “disappointing” findings, one promising aspect of the results was the difference between the varying generations of researchers. The study found that “…differences in influence on Twitter were less pronounced among junior researchers, suggesting greater gender parity among younger cohorts.” The result could be a sign of an upcoming shift in gender differences and disparities in academic medicine as baby boomers are replaced by millennials. Although this may inspire hope, the results of the study still call into question the value of these platforms and whether or not they reinforce gender disparities or serve as a tool to help end them.

Additional Penn authors on the study include Jane M. Zhu, Arthur P. Pelullo, and Raina M. Merchant.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $7.8 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $425 million awarded in the 2018 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Home Care and Hospice Services, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 40,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2018, Penn Medicine provided more than $525 million to benefit our community.

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