Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Head To Head

Are there too many female medical graduates? No

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 03 April 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:749

Rapid Response:

Far play for women doctors and their families

Sacha C Haworth's comment on: Jane Dacre. Are there too many female medical graduates? BMJ 2008; 336: 749 BMJ 2008; 336: 749, included the statement: " I feel I should point that many women in the NHS have successfully balanced family life against long often unsociable hours."

Anecdotal evidence confirms Dr Haworth's assertion that medical work often involves long, unsocial hours; unsocial in the sense that they are often unpredictable and interfere with regular sleep and leisure. With the best laid plans for children (and even for spouses), family life remains unpredictable and sleep and leisure are disturbed. The problem of reconciling career with family is a complex one, and like all complex problems is not susceptible to a simple solution (eg Paternal participation and job sharing).

We all know of Stakhanovite Professors X, Y, Z et al who worked on close to the time of delivery and resumed promptly afterwards, and received well deserved glittering professional prizes. They started work early each day, attended meetings late at night, and travelled extensively. This will have left a limited amount of time for family, giving a special meaning to "balanced": holding them up as examples of what is open to other women is as unkind as it is irrelevant.

Once accept for professional women that but for the extreme exceptions, reconciling work and family is particularly difficult, then the Department of Health and the NHS management must revolutionize manpower calculations, postgraduate training, and job profiling, to reconcile the reasonable career expectations of women doctors, the needs of their families, and the needs of Society.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

09 April 2008
Morris Greenberg
74 North End Road NW11 7SY