Challenges Facing Women Doctors
The numbers of women entering the medical profession is increasing day by day and so are the challenges faced by them. In Canada alone, women constituted only 7% of all practicing physician in 1961 and it had risen to 28% by 2000. By 2015, this number is expected to rise further to 40%. In the United States, women physicians increased in number from 24% in 2000 to 25.8% in 2003, while back in 1970, they made up only 7.6%. The increasing trend of women towards medical profession is not unique to the modern civilization. If we trace back the history of early civilizations, we will find a number of women involved in art of healing. In 2700 B.C, an Egyptian woman named ‘Merit Ptah’ has been described as the ‘Chief Physician’ in the history of medical science. In Greece, Agamede was another great healer, cited by Homer before Trojan War. The first woman physician to practice legally was Agnodike in 4th century B.C. in Athens. This strong association of woman with art of healing is not without reasons. In general, women are considered more sensitive and empathetic towards the needs of othersthan men. They are superior nurturers and better listeners than most of the men.
Despite being active and dedicated member of medical profession, their acceptance into the field as healthcare professional has not been the norm during any civilization. While the medical field was being professionalized, their participation in the field was restricted either by law or by their male counterparts. Therefore they were compelled to work in medical allied fields (Nursing and Midwifery) and afterwards they started making significant contribution to the medical education and pure health fields.
They have to face a number of challenges such as; they have to bear and rear children, make a home,be a part of marital relation, bring in earnings to support family, play a role in social and medical community and keep up with advances in medical field. So we expect them to be some sort of creature which we call “Super wife, Super Doc and Super Mom”. According to a research in ‘Women in Medicine’ conducted by Sophia Mobilos and colleagues, three challenges facing women physicians were identified. Those were as follows:
- Lifestyle and career choices
- Family planning and career trajectory
- Seeking balance
Lifestyle and career choices
According to the opinions of most of the women physicians, choice of career has strong correlation with lifestyle and commitment to a certain specialties demands a huge sacrifice in family and lifestyle. Most of the women doctors and their families can’t expect a normal lifestyle after opting a specific specialty which demands long work hours. When they become a partof this noble profession, they have to act nobly by giving up some of things that they may have wanted to do and most of them are contented with this situation. Others who can’t adjust themselves have to resign from the job and this situation occurs mostly in the beginning of career. If they sacrifice in the beginning of the career, they are rewarded in the end. In order to achieve a balance between their career and personal life and to increase the time reserved for parenting, they have to reduce work hours.
Off course, the family is first priority of all women, so they go for a specialty which demands less working hours or that one in which working hours can be scheduled to fit their family life. A flexible job schedule is a demand for most of the women doctors because they do want to spend time with their husbandsand children. They have to face more difficulties in choosing specialty in which work time is dictated by the hospital as compared to that in which they can set their own office hours.
Career improvement and Family planning
The biggest challenge women physicians have to face is taking maternity leaves when they think of planning their pregnancy and career improvement simultaneously. Most often they have to take out a calendar and sort out the months which are not supposed to affect their professional career. Sometimes they have to delay pregnancies which pose another threat to their marital life. Many women doctors avoid getting pregnant during residency training and this delay may cause infertility. When they get themselves in practice, they are judged not by their professional capabilities and competencies but by their sex. They are not given a warm welcome because it is assumed that they will soon be on maternity leaves and that they are not as committed to the profession as their male counterparts are. Institutions do not support pregnant women doctors adequately and as a result they have to take insufficient maternity leave which further potentiates adverse pregnancy outcome. Often the news of pregnancy, which should have been celebrated, is met with resentment in workplace.
Seeking Balance between professional and personal life
Seeking Balance between professional and personal life is another major challenge which women doctors have to face and failure to meet with this challenge results in emotional discomfort and professional frustration. The end result of this mental and emotional disturbance may lead them to drinking, drug abuse, depression, anxiety and even suicide. If they are 80% good doctor, 80% good wife and 80% good mothers, it means they are working 240% instead of 100%. Despite their involvement in multiple fields, their role is not appreciated by their husbands and male colleagues. While the male physicians don’t carry the same amount of work and responsibilities at home, they often succeed more in time demanding specialties.
How to meet with these challenges?
To meet with these challenges, women doctors have emphasized the importance of flexibility at workplace. Some flexibility is already provided and that is the reason why more women are entering the profession than men. Women choose specialties not by their interest or passion but the flexibility which it offers and this is the logic behind the fact that the number of women opting medicine as specialty has increased tremendously as compared to those opting surgery. A healthy solution to the problem of maternity leaves is temporary replacement of staff. Lack of child care facilities at hospitals is another dilemma for those women who have children to take care of them. This problem can be fixed by providing day care centers in hospitals.
Decreasing the pay disparity between men and women doctors is another healthy step towards the solution. Negotiating with hospital administration for not being on call after certain hours may help women doctors achieve a balance between their personal and professional life. Discouraging gender discrimination at workplace may give them confidence and strength to cope with mental and emotional disturbances. So, owing to multiple roles of women doctors at hospital, home and community, their encouragement should also come from multiple sites including hospital administration, family (especially husband) community and state.