Stanford Medicine magazine reports on sex, gender and medicine

The spring issue of the magazine highlights how sex and gender differences should be part of medical education, research and care. It includes a Q&A with Barbra Streisand on fighting gender discrimination in cardiovascular research and treatment.

- By Rosanne Spector

Gerard DuBois

The practice of medicine would be so much simpler if humans came in only one sex — and for most of the past century, doctors and researchers have behaved as if that were the case. Modern medicine is largely based on what works for men. Doctors are mostly men, new treatments are tested mainly on men, medical school teachers are mainly men. Even lab animals are largely male.

This is starting to change, though gradually. In the new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine, you’ll find articles about how the medical world has begun to factor not only sex but gender into teaching, research and care — and why it matters.

“Both sex and gender influence human health and disease,” said Janine Clayton, MD, the director of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Research on Women’s Health, in the article leading off the theme package on sex and gender in medicine. 

“It is increasingly clear that it is both an ethical and scientific imperative to conduct research and report on the results for both men and women,” she added.

One challenge for researchers is simply measuring gender, said Marcia Stefanick, PhD, director of the Stanford Women and Sex Differences in Medicine Center. It’s not as straightforward as most of us think.

“Sex is generally assigned at birth, based on external genitalia, after which a broad range of biological, particularly reproductive, sex differences are assumed. Individuals are then, usually, forced into a binary model of gender — with distinct masculine and feminine categories — when the possibilities are much broader and more expansive,” explained Stefanick, in the same article.

She is part of a team developing a way to place an individual’s gender on a continuum so it can be accurately correlated to health outcomes.

Also in the issue:

The issue also includes a story about a researcher who invents “frugal science” tools, like an origami microscope that costs less than $1; and an excerpt from An American Sickness, a new book about the ills of U.S. health care, written by Elisabeth Rosenthal, MD, editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News.

Print copies of the magazine are being sent to subscribers. Others can request a copy at (650) 723-6911 or by sending an email to

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

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