Women Doctors? The Best Future for Medicine or a Waste of Training Money?

2-women-doctors-small In a harsh economic climate, women doctors begin to look poor value for money according to an article in Timesonline. It costs about £250,000 for the NHS to train a surgeon, and many female surgeons once they have children end up either working part-time or failing to get their hospital job back and retraining as GPs. The article goes on to point out that with 57% of graduates from medical schools now being women and 40% of all doctors, we have a possible crisis in store, as many of those women go off on maternity leave, or opt to work part-time. Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said as much in a report for the National Working Group on Women in Medicine, in which he warned that the country could face “a dramatic shortage of working doctors” in the next few years unless the NHS takes action. On the other side of the argument, this week, Clarissa Fabre takes over as president of the Medical Women’s Federation. Making it possible for women not just to keep entering the medical profession but to stay there will be top of her agenda. Fabre, unsurprisingly, does not see women doctors as a poor return on public investment. She points out that research suggests women doctors are more conscientious than men. They have longer consultations with patients, are less likely to take risks and are less often investigated for malpractice. “When women doctors get pregnant, they often work on longer than they should. The feeling that they don’t want to let the team down is very strong,” she says. “And with the right support it should be possible for women to enter any field of medicine. I know an orthopaedic surgeon with four kids. Women do cope.” There are no easy answers but as Fabre points out “Surgery lists could be made for mornings only. Job shares could be created. What we need is enthusiasm and creative thinking….Patients don’t care whether their doctor is full-time or part-time; what they want is a good doctor.

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  • Esther Haines

    Should I take it that male surgeons do not become fathers, then?
    Seriously, an ability to manage different working patterns should be considered part of a manager’s set of skills, just like budgeting. Also, women need to know what their options are for balancing childcare responsibilities with job commitments. I think this is an area where women’s networks play an important role. Women who have successful careers are often reluctant to discuss their domestic arrangements in formal settings either because they are concerned about their family’s privacy or because they feel their circumstances are sufficiently unusual as to not be of general interest. In the more informal settings provided by women’s networks they can be more forthcoming. Women need to hear about lots of different approaches to balancing family and career responsibilities in order so that each individual can work out what will suit her.