Workplace discrimination: Experiences of practicing physicians

Alice A.Tolbert Coombs, Roderick K. King

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

69 Scopus citations


Background: In response to a growing concern regarding physician discrimination in the workplace, this study was developed to: 1) describe the types of discrimination that exist for the practicing physician and 2) determine which groups of physicians are more likely to experience the various forms of discrimination. Methods: Surveys were mailed to 1,930 practicing physicians in Massachusetts. Participants were asked if they had encountered discrimination, how significant the discrimination was against a specific group, the frequency of personal discrimination, and the type of discrimination. Factor analysis identified four types of discrimination: career advancement, punitive behaviors, practice barriers and hiring barriers. Results: A total of 445 responses were received (a 24% response rate). Sixty-three percent of responding physicians had experienced some form of discrimination. Respondents were women (46%), racial/ethnic minorities (42%) and international medical graduates (IMGs) (40%). In addition, 26% of those classified as white were also IMGs. Over 60% of respondents believed discrimination against IMGs was very or somewhat significant. Almost 27% of males acknowledged that gender bias against females was very or somewhat significant. IMGs were more likely to indicate that discrimination against IMGs was significant in their current organization. Of U.S. medical graduates (USMGs) 44% reported that discrimination against IMGs in their current organization was significant. Nonwhites were more likely to report that discrimination based on race/ethnicity was significant. Nearly 29% of white respondents also believed that such discrimination was very or somewhat significant. Conclusions: Physicians practicing in academic, research, and private practice sectors experience discrimination based on gender, ethnic/racial, and IMG status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-477
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of the National Medical Association
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Cultural competence
  • Healthcare workforce
  • Physician discrimination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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