Sorry for the controversial title but the topic of women in medicine is becoming quite a hot issue in recent years. Especially since over 50% of Canadian and US medical students are now female, one has to wonder about future work force implications, especially when these female docs decide to start their own families and take maternity leave. Before I begin, let me just state my position (so I’m not seen to be a sexist chauvinistic antiqued male medical student): I fully support women in medicine and believe they are equal, if not better than their male counterparts, at providing medical care. However, there may also be a workforce shortage in the foreseeable future because of this “feminization” of medicine and I believe that new ideas and a change in the system will be needed. Now that’s out of the way, let’s start with some controversial articles.
This weekend, Dr. Karen Sibert, a female anesthesiologist and a mother wrote a provoking article in the New York Times titled Don’t Quit Your Day Job. Below is quoted text verbatim
Students who aspire to go to medical school should think about the consequences if they decide to work part time or leave clinical medicine. It’s fair to ask them — women especially — to consider the conflicting demands that medicine and parenthood make before they accept (and deny to others) sought-after positions in medical school and residency. They must understand that medical education is a privilege, not an entitlement, and it confers a real moral obligation to serve.
In summary, Dr. Sibert addresses a sense of entitlement amongst female physicians who believe they can have it all, both a career and a family. In response, Dr. Michelle Au (theunderweardrawer.blogspot.com) wrote a response The Mommy Wars, Medical Education where a good counterpoint is given. Quoted from the article.
Instead of pointing the finger at women doctors for being the reason for the shortfall in physician numbers and productivity, it might first be helpful to examine the circumstances under which parents feel like they need to go part-time or leave medicine altogether–a decision which, after almost a decade of training (and sometimes more), I can’t imagine anyone would take lightly. In medicine, you can treat the symptoms all that you want, but there is no cure until you can identify the underlying cause.
Definitely some strong points made, though I probably side more with Dr. Au’s position. I did a search on this topic and came up with some further reading
- Are there too many female medical graduates? – a scientific article published in the BMJ by Brian Mckinstry
- Women Doctors: Waste of Money? and Are There Too Many Women Doctors? – both in Bloomberg Businessweek
- Should Women be Doctors? – NYTimes Motherlode Blog
- Mothers in Medicine – a group blog by physician-mothers writing about their challenges and joys about caring for two different populations in their life
If you can get through all the comments too, it’s quite a debate. There’s also no clear blueprint or outline on how to address this problem and I don’t think it will be a simple solution. Not being an expert at the topic, I give you medaholic’s overly generalized summary. Please feel free to leave some commentary to correct me of my ignorant ways.
- We are currently training more female doctors than male doctors
- There are still more male doctors overall in the workforce because older generations were almost exclusively male
- Newly trained doctors (both sexes) work less hours than their predecessors from the generation before
- Female doctors work less hours than their male counterparts
- Females are more likely to take time-off work to raise their families
- Females are more likely to go into primary care specialties (family medicine, pediatrics, obsgyn)
- There will be a shortage of physicians
Things I think we can do to improve the situation
- Acknowledge that physicians today are unlikely to make the same sacrifices (family, personal life) as the generation before
- Acknowledge that modern medicine is different from medicine of the past – more complex, team based
- Continue to encourage both genders to pursue medical careers
- Train more doctors, both females and males
- Males should take on equal responsibilities at home – stay at home dad’s? part time male docs?
- Restructure the hours in medicine, less overnight call, more shift work?
- Provide nursery/child care options for working mothers