Doctors must learn to distinguish between sex and gender, warn Scotland’s top doctors

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Doctors must learn to distinguish between sex and gender, warn Scotland's top doctors


Doctors confusing sex and gender put treatment of patients at risk, a group of senior medical researchers warned.

A team led by the University of St Andrews said doctors often fail to distinguish between the two, which can make treatment for some patients ineffective or inappropriate.

In an article published Friday in the British Medical Journal, the authors argue that the distinction is “critical” to good health care, and ignoring it can lead to “mistakes” that can negatively affect all patients.

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A distinction between sex and gender is made by the World Health Organization, with sex being linked to biology and gender to societal roles, but researchers say current medical practice often uses the two terms interchangeably. .
The article “Sex, Gender and Health Data” by Susan Bewley, Margaret McCartney, Catherine Meads and Amy Rogers is published in the British Medical Journal.
“There are many examples of sex and gender being confused by the research community and society at large,” said Dr Margaret McCartney, of St Andrews University School of Medicine.
“If we don’t identify and count categories correctly, we will end up with errors that serve all populations poorly, including minority populations.”
Professor Susan Bewley, Emeritus (Honorary) Professor of Obstetrics and Women’s Health at King’s College London, said differentiation is important for the health care of all patients.

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“Medical care requires an understanding of the difference between sex and gender categories; disentangling them is crucial for safe, dignified and effective health care for all groups, ”she said.
“Avoidable harm can result when confused – for example, if gender-specific laboratory reference ranges are used for people whose sex is recorded but not their biological sex or their hormone prescription. ”
The World Health Organization gives a distinct meaning to each term, stating: “Gender is used to describe characteristics of women and men that are socially constructed, while sex refers to those that are biologically determined. ”
The article adds: “Sex and gender are not synonymous. Unless otherwise noted, sex is linked to biology: gametes, chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs.
“Gender relates to the roles, behaviors and expectations of society that vary over time and place, historically and geographically.
“These categories describe different attributes that must be taken into account depending on the purpose for which they are intended.

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