We need female doctors at all levels and in all specialtiesBMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e2325 (Published 04 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e2325
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Whilst I agree with many of the sentiments expressed in “We need female doctors at all levels and in all specialties” (1), I feel that suggesting that we should embrace this by continuing to encourage the trend of more women entering in to ‘family friendly’ specialties, such as general practice and psychiatry, (which will allegedly fit in to the changing delivery of healthcare in the future), is at best a convenient platitude and at worst re-enforces the stereotypes and culture that the author righty suggests we should be moving away from.
Medicine seems to find the whole concept of flexible working and other ‘family friendly’ models ridiculously challenging and still seems to feel these should only apply to women, despite the fact that many male doctors also have children (or other domestic commitments). Bear in mind that it is only for a relatively small proportion of a doctor’s working-life (male or female) that their children are small and this often coincides with the senior training and early Consultant years; leadership opportunities generally present themselves around the age of 50, as the author points out, but without support or positive role models then many women will not have accrued the experience to be in a position to put themselves forward, as the author would hope.
I would suggest that if men – as well as women - also “endeavour to organise their domestic commitments around their work” (1), and both were supported by their employers to do so, then this in itself would reduce many of the difficulties. If we are to properly face the challenge of a 60:40 female: male doctor ratio, it is not enough to simply ask women to change, there is a need to change the structure and organisational culture of large sections of the NHS. Standard childcare is often not compatible with entering medical leadership, management and many surgical specialties; to be able to make the most of training in these areas it seems the organisation assumes the presence of a supportive non-careerist partner: the traditional ‘wife’ role.
Without genuine commitment to address the barriers that continue to discourage women from entering certain fields then many of the previously raised concerns, such as a reduction in the political power of the profession (2), gender segregation (3) and difficulties with out of hours cover (4), do not seem so unreasonable. If women continue to remain in the minority in senior leadership positions, then such under-representation is not just to the detriment of the profession but arguably also to patient care and society as a whole.
1) Dacre J. We need female doctors at all levels and in all specialties. BMJ 2012;344:e2325
2) BBC. Women docs “weakening” medicine. 2 August 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3527184.stm.
3) McKinstrey B. Are there too many female medical graduates? Yes. BMJ2008;336:748
4) Lambert TW, Goldacre MJ, Turner G. Career choices of United Kingdom medical graduates 1999 and 2000: questionnaire surveys. BMJ2003;326:194-5.
Competing interests: No competing interests