To the Editor:
Peer-reviewed publications are important determinants for promotions, academic leadership, and grants in dermatology.1 The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dermatology research productivity remains an area of investigation. We sought to determine authorship trends for males and females during the pandemic.
A cross-sectional retrospective study of the top 20 dermatology journals—determined by impact factor and Google Scholar H5-index—was conducted to identify manuscripts with submission date specified prepandemic (May 1, 2019–October 31, 2019) and during the pandemic (May 1, 2020–October 31, 2020). Submission date, first/last author name, sex, and affiliated country were extracted. Single authors were designated as first authors. Gender API (https://gender-api.com/en/) classified gender. A χ2 test (P<.05) compared differences in proportions of female first/last authors from 2019 to 2020.
Overall, 811 and 1061 articles submitted in 2019 and 2020, respectively, were included. There were 1517 articles submitted to clinical journals and 355 articles submitted to basic science journals (Table). For the 7 clinical journals included, there was a 7.7% decrease in the proportion of female last authors in 2020 vs 2019 (P=.002), with the largest decrease between August and September 2020. Although other comparisons did not yield statistically significant differences (P>.05 all)(Table), several trends were observed. For clinical journals, there was a 1.8% decrease in the proportion of female first authors. For the 4 basic science journals included, there was a 4.9% increase and a 0.3% decrease in percentages of female first and last authors, respectively, for 2020 vs 2019.
Our findings indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted female authors’ productivity in clinical dermatology publications. In a survey-based study for 2010 to 2011, female physician-researchers (n=437) spent 8.5 more hours per week on domestic activities and childcare and were more likely to take time off for childcare if their partner worked full time compared with males (n=612)(42.6% vs 12.4%, respectively).2 Our observation that female last authors had a significant decrease in publications may suggest that this population had a disproportionate burden of domestic labor and childcare during the pandemic. It is possible that last authors, who generally are more senior researchers, may be more likely to have childcare, eldercare, and other types of domestic responsibilities. Similarly, in a study of surgery submissions (n=1068), there were 6%, 7%, and 4% decreases in percentages of female last, corresponding, and first authors, respectively, from 2019 to 2020.3Our study had limitations. Only 11 journals were analyzed because others did not have specified submission dates. Some journals only provided submission information for a subset of articles (eg, those published in the In Press section), which may have accounted for the large discrepancy in submission numbers for 2019 to 2020. Gender could not be determined for 1% of authors and was limited to female and male. Although our study submission time frame (May–October 2020) aimed at identifying research conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these studies may have been conducted months or years before the pandemic. Future studies should focus on longer and more comprehensive time frames. Finally, estimated dates of stay-at-home orders fail to consider differences within countries.
The proportion of female US-affiliated first and last authors publishing in dermatology journals increased from 12% to 48% in 1976 and from 6% to 31% in 2006,4 which is encouraging. However, a gender gap persists, with one-third of National Institutes of Health grants in dermatology and one-fourth of research project grants in dermatology awarded to women.5 Consequences of the pandemic on academic productivity may include fewer women represented in higher academic ranks, lower compensation, and lower career satisfaction compared with men.1 We urge academic institutions and funding agencies to recognize and take action to mitigate long-term sequelae. Extended grant end dates and submission periods, funding opportunities dedicated to women, and prioritization of female-authored submissions are some strategies that can safeguard equitable career progression in dermatology research.