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  • Kamran Mashayekh

Three Issues Facing Women in Medical Practice and How to Tackle Them

Women are the majority of (50.5%) medical students in the United States, but they are the minority (35%) of medical practitioners. How can your medical practice recruit and retain female doctors amid a critical shortage of doctors? The answer is two-fold. First, your practice must recognize the unique challenges female doctors face and second, your practice must use diversity and inclusion strategies to support female physicians.


Three Unique Challenges Women Face in Medical Practice

Three important issues that affect gender parity in medical practice are: pay gaps, a lack of women in leadership roles, and the lack of accommodations for female doctors who have additional family responsibilities. These factors combine to make it difficult for female practitioners to remain in their positions.


Pay Gaps: In a January 2020 study, researchers found consistent gaps in pay in the salaries of doctors involved in direct patient care. The study examined salaries from 1999-2017 and found that despite equal responsibilities career trajectories, women still earned less than their male counterparts. In a recent article, Dr. Shikha Jain argued that the pay gap between male and female physicians was between 10%-33% depending on the area of specialization.

Leadership Lacks Women: Representation in leadership is a critical factor for retaining employees of different gender, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Yet, in health care, women are consistently underrepresented in hospital and academic medicine leadership. How does this lack of leadership impact women? Female medical practitioners often report biased treatment from patients, fellow members of their care teams, and supervisors. For example, a male doctor uses a female physician’s first name rather than her title. While it may seem like a non-issue for the male doctor, female physicians report that this impacts how the patient sees their capabilities as a health care provider.


The Double Burden: The fact that women perform both paid labor at work and unpaid labor at home is often called “the double burden.” Female physicians are not exempt from this challenging position. In an interview with US News & World Report, Dr. Erin O’Brien discussed giving birth but only receiving six weeks of maternity leave to recover from a cesarean section (a major abdominal surgery) and to care for her newborn. She recalls having to pump breastmilk while writing patient notes. Dr. O’Brien’s experience speaks to the more significant issue facing women in health care who become mothers. Without administrative and institutional support, mothers and women who must care for ailing family members are in an impossible position. Who wants to choose between caring for their child and pursuing their career?


Solutions

Fortunately, the American Medical Association has taken the lead in addressing the numerous gender issues facing American medical practice, particularly the pay gap. However, medical practitioners and leaders must be proactive in tackling factors like the double burden and the missing women in leadership positions.


Diversity and inclusion training and education is a successful tool in combatting the implicit and explicit biases that are the underlying causes of these issues. In a 2016 study, medical researchers found that a 20-minute educational training on biases for medical school faculty contributed to a change in perspective for participants.


My diversity and inclusion talks illustrate the incredible benefits businesses and institutions reap when they set recognize and set aside biases during the hiring process. Through the education of human resources departments, you can recruit high-achieving female medical practitioners for your care team.