Wadsworth Williams, a third-year medical student, has published two studies investigating the impact of gender bias in academic medical journals, including one which examined the internal review process at The Journal of Pediatrics.
“This was the first such open audit of a medical journal, and we are hoping that this kind of transparency can spread to other journals and fields,” Williams said.
Where are you from and where did you receive your undergraduate education?
I grew up outside of sunny Los Angeles and studied chemical and biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins University. I found my path to medicine after taking some time to work as an engineer and pursuing research in clinical ethics at the University of Chicago. I was excited to attend Feinberg, two years after my wife Carly, who is now an orthopedic surgery intern at Northwestern.
What are your research interests?
My clinical research began during a gap year at The University of Chicago under the direction of pediatrician and ethicist Dr. Lainie Ross. One project that we worked on together was evaluating gender bias in academic publication, specifically at The Journal of Pediatrics. Dr. Ross attended a presentation in which this journal was named as operating fairly in respect to gender, but there was no data to support the claim. One Dr. Ross aphorism is “Don’t get mad, get data,” and thus our project was born.
We were granted access to internal data from The Journal for two years and analyzed how gender may have influenced publication decisions made by reviewers and editors. We found that manuscripts were reviewed fairly with respect to gender, but invited opportunities — for example, to write editorials or serve on editorial boards — favored men. This was the first such open audit of a medical journal, and we are hoping that this kind of transparency can spread to other journals and fields.
My gender bias research has continued through medical school and a natural evolution of this research was to explore how gender and COVID-19 combined to influence publication at The Journal of Pediatrics. We found that overall submissions to The Journal increased during the pandemic. Women authored an average of 55.0 percent of original articles submitted to The Journal of Pediatrics before the pandemic, but only 49.8 percent of articles in April-May 2020. In particular, submissions from women outside the U.S. decreased substantially.
With the internal submission data from The Journal of Pediatrics, we also documented how submissions of COVID-19 related articles traced the spread of the virus around the globe.
What are your medical interests?
One thread throughout my research is looking out for vulnerable populations. This overlaps with my interest in pediatrics and my desire to help promote healthy and safe environments for children to learn and grow. Before medical school I volunteered at Lurie Children’s Hospital and as a medical student it has been amazing to return and join clinical care teams on my rotations.
One of my favorite parts about Feinberg is the exceptional mentorship and resources for research. Dr. Susanna McColley, a pediatric pulmonologist who works with cystic fibrosis patients and my mentor for my Area of Scholarly Concentration (AOSC) project, has been instrumental in my development as a clinician and researcher. Together, we have been exploring adverse childhood experiences in the setting of cystic fibrosis.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic experiences that span abuse, neglect and household dysfunction that can lead to an increased risk of outcomes such as cancer, heart disease and substance abuse. The negative manifestations of ACEs in children and how to intervene early is a relatively new field of research. Although national data indicates that children with chronic disease may be at risk to have more ACEs, they still remain an understudied population. Our first project was to better understand the best setting and format to screen for ACEs in the setting of cystic fibrosis. We are now implementing our research to screen for ACEs.
I am excited to continue expanding my research as I enter my fourth year and apply for pediatrics residencies.
What advice would you give to prospective medical students?
Stay curious and take advantage of your status as a medical student to explore the vastness of medicine. Jump onto projects that excite you and find out what your teachers in medicine (residents, attendings and fellow students) are passionate about and learn through their enthusiasm.