Emergency physician shows everyday readers why ‘Sex Matters’ in health care

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Women are left out of medical research and science in many ways, and it is hurting women.

“We physicians were taught that men’s symptoms were the standard for both men and women,” said McGregor, now a faculty member in the school’s Department of Emergency Medicine and physician at Rhode Island Hospital. “It turned out that didn’t fit women’s experiences.”

The findings spurred McGregor to consider other ways that inattention to biological sex difference might be impacting the health care women receive. “I thought, ‘If women are different in this way, why? And how are they different from men in other ways?’”

McGregor cofounded the Division of Sex and Gender in Emergency Medicine at Brown to answer these questions. Since its inception in 2014, the division has helped to generate more than 100 peer-reviewed publications on a vast range of medical conditions — from infection to cancer to stroke — and trained numerous medical residents through elective rotations and a two-year fellowship designed to develop new leaders in the field.

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Sex Matters in women’s health

Most recently, McGregor turned her sights to educating the general public about the difference that sex makes in health care. Her new book, “Sex Matters: How Male-Centric Medicine Endangers Women’s Health and What We Can Do about It,” gives an accessible account of health care disparities that continue to affect women, with an eye toward empowering women to fight medical biases when they encounter them.

These Are the Risks of Male-Centric Medicine

Doctors take an oath to do no harm. But in her book, ‘Sex Matters,’ emergency medicine physician Alyson McGregor explains how doctors are unintentionally harming women by practicing a model of medicine based on men.

One of the most striking findings from the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic is that more men are dying from the virus than women. According to the New York City Department of Health, the most recent statistics show that men make up roughly 60 percent of total deaths in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. But most doctors and researchers don’t yet understand how the virus behaves in men compared to women—information that could help explain the difference in fatality rates and that could inform the best course of action for all patients. For now, doctors are left to treat patients with one-size-fits-all treatments.

To Alyson McGregor, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, this is a major problem. But it’s also not surprising.

When McGregor first figured out that women are excluded from medical studies, she was shocked. “There’s an assumption that research is done in a fair and balanced way. That’s what we learn in medical school. But they never told us who the research was done on. That evidence was just brought into medical schools, and educators use it to train new doctors,” she says. This unwittingly perpetuates a system that centers on male physiology and experience.

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