SAMJ: South African Medical Journal
On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574
BACKGROUND: Since 1994, higher education policy has been committed to equity of access for all, irrespective of race and gender. OBJECTIVES: We investigated progress towards these goals in the education of medical doctors, with an emphasis on gender. METHODS: Databases from the Department of Education (DoE), Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and University of Cape Town (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences were used to explore undergraduate (MB ChB) trends at all eight medical schools and postgraduate (MMed) trends at UCT. RESULTS: Nationally women have outnumbered men in MBChB enrolments since 2000, figures ranging between 52% and 63% at seven of the eight medical schools in 2005. However, the rate of change in the medical profession lags behind and it will take more than two decades for female doctors to outnumber male doctors. A study of UCT postgraduate enrolments shows that females had increased to 42% of MMed enrolments in 2005. However, female postgraduate students were concentrated in disciplines such as paediatrics and psychiatry and comprised no more than 11% of enrolments in the surgical disciplines between 1999 and 2005. CONCLUSIONS: The study provides a basic quantitative overview of the changing profile of medical enrolments and raises questions about the career choices of women after they graduate and the social factors influencing these choices.