There is much discussion about the sex differences that exist in medical education. Research from the United Kingdom (UK) and United States has found female doctors earn less, and are less likely to be senior authors on academic papers, but female doctors are also less likely to be sanctioned, and have been found to perform better academically and clinically. It is also known that international medical graduates tend to perform more poorly academically compared to home-trained graduates in the UK, US, and Canada. It is uncertain whether the magnitude and direction of sex differences in doctors' performance is variable by country. We explored the association between doctors' sex and their performance at a large international high-stakes clinical examination: the Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians (UK) Practical Assessment of Clinical Examination Skills (PACES). We examined how sex differences varied by the country in which the doctor received their primary medical qualification, the country in which they took the PACES examination, and by the country in which they are registered to practise.
Seven thousand six hundred seventy-one doctors attempted PACES between October 2010 and May 2013. We analysed sex differences in first time pass rates, controlling for ethnicity, in three groups: (i) UK medical graduates (N = 3574); (ii) non-UK medical graduates registered with the UK medical regulator, the General Medical Council (GMC), and thus likely to be working in the UK (N = 1067); and (iii) non-UK medical graduates without GMC registration and so legally unable to work or train in the UK (N = 2179).
Female doctors were statistically significantly more likely to pass at their first attempt in all three groups, with the greatest sex effect seen in non-UK medical graduates without GMC registration (OR = 1.99; 95% CI = 1.65-2.39; P < 0.0001) and the smallest in the UK graduates (OR = 1.18; 95% CI = 1.03-1.35; P = 0.02).
As found in a previous format of this examination and in other clinical examinations, female doctors outperformed male doctors. Further work is required to explore why sex differences were greater in non-UK graduates, especially those without GMC registration, and to consider how examination performance may relate to performance in practice.