Too many female doctors! Topic ignored at 2020 Summit.

Problems in the Health system can’t wait until 2020, especially the one caused by too many female doctors in general practice. It’s time we gave some serious thought to whom we enrol in Medicine. We need more doctors, especially in rural areas, but we have the proportion of female doctors to male doctors wrong.

When I last wrote about this topic in a letter to the Courier-Mail several years ago I received various responses. Doctors who ran G.P practices agreed with me. One female manager told me that she can’t rely on the female G.Ps to keep to a schedule because of family commitments. Other young female doctors, objected to my “sexism”. This reaction did not surprise me.

My opinion has not changed. In fact, the problem is even worse nowadays. We should reduce the number of females going into general practice. Whilst I believe in equal rights for women, I am convinced that medical practice for a woman is not a cost-effective choice for the public. She may do well out of the practice but the patients are being short-changed.

My objection to female G.Ps is that they often only work part-time, say three days a week, and only during school hours. Not very practical when you need a doctor in a hurry.

This work pattern does not reimburse the expenditure by taxpayers for an expensive medical degree. Remember that HECS does not entail full repayment, so we, the public, are out of pocket if female doctors choose to only work part-time.

Such doctors cannot give their full attention to patients, nor can they be around when they are needed at all hours of the day and night.

A part-time doctor does not provide continuity. Patients prefer to consult doctors who are familiar with their cases. To have to explain the symptoms all over again is tiresome, expensive and potentially life-threatening. We need doctors who know us.

I can appreciate that female doctors want to be around for their children. That’s what mothers are for. But it’s not good for us.

If a male doctor had the same part-time practice I would object just as strongly to that as well. But, it is usually the females who choose part-time careers for obvious reasons.

So it’s not a question of sexism but rather one of serving the public at an optimal level.

I have just read a summary from Business Week (28th April 2008 issue – 18th April) which supports my argument:-

ARE THERE TOO MANY WOMEN DOCTORS?
By Catherine Arnst,

Finding a doctor could soon be even harder than paying for one. Various studies have projected a shortfall of anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 physicians in the U.S. relative to demand by 2020, and the Institute of Medicine, a federal advisory body, just reported that in a mere three years senior citizens will be facing a health-care workforce that is “too small and woefully unprepared.” This looming shortage is forcing into the open a controversy that has been cautiously debated in hospitals and medical practices for some time: Are women doctors part of the problem? It’s not the abilities of female doctors that are in question. It’s that study after study has found women doctors tend to work 20% to 25% fewer hours than their male counterparts. The British Medical Journal went public with the debate on Apr. 5 when it published a commentary by Dr. Brian McKinstry, a general practitioner at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh, titled “Are There Too Many Female Medical Graduates? Yes.” McKinstry argues that “society still expects women rather than men to reduce work commitments to look after children and not to return to full-time work until the children are older.” He laments the unfairness of it all but concludes that “in the absence of a profound change in our society in terms of responsibility for childcare, we need to take a balanced approach to recruitment.”

Similarly, in Australia we have to adjust the ratio of males to females studying Medicine and this change cannot wait until 2020. By 2020 more than 60% of medical students will be female. Sir Llew Edwards disclosed to a meeting three years ago in Queensland that more females than males were already studying medicine in some medical schools, so the future looks even bleaker for us.

It’s worthwhile reading the original article in the British Medical Journal.

But try to suggest such an adjustment at the Summit and I would have been howled down by every suffragette in the place. Mind you, it was okay for Rudd to fudge the figures to ensure that 50% of the Summiteers were indeed female.

So if you were a bloke with a brilliant new idea for the Summit, you had less chance of being invited than a female with an idea that wasn’t so great. Now that’s what I call SEXISM!

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5 thoughts on “Too many female doctors! Topic ignored at 2020 Summit.

  1. “It’s time we gave some serious thought to whom we enrol in Medicine.”

    You’re right. Let’s stop enrolling on the basis of academic merit and interview skills. That’s far too obvious. Let’s look at their genitals instead.

    “Such doctors cannot give their full attention to patients”

    Are you a doctor yourself? Can you not imagine that these women might just be able to concentrate on the task at hand? Or do you suppose they are secretly planning tonight’s dinner while discussing your haemorrhoids?

    “I am convinced that medical practice for a woman is not a cost-effective choice for the public. She may do well out of the practice but the patients are being short-changed.”

    Short-changed if their doctor has some idea of the realities of life outside of work, and a personality that isn’t one-dimensional? Hardly.

    “Not very practical when you need a doctor in a hurry.”

    Heard of emergency departments?

    “To have to explain the symptoms all over again is tiresome, expensive and potentially life-threatening. We need doctors who know us.”

    You have little understanding of the reality of general practice. The vast majority of complaints are not life-threatening, and when they are, a new doctor (female or otherwise) is generally capable of picking this up.

    “So it’s not a question of sexism but rather one of serving the public at an optimal level.”

    Really? Admitting medical students on the basis of their sex ISN’T sexist?

    Yes, let’s get back to the good old days of the ball-breaking, grin and bear it ethos. I have some bad news for you. Many MALE medical graduates also want to balance their careers with their families. Perhaps we should only allow celibate doctors?

    “Similarly, in Australia we have to adjust the ratio of males to females studying Medicine and this change cannot wait until 2020. ”

    There’s so much wrong with your “solution”, I don’t even know where to begin.

    And citing the BMJ doesn’t mean you have a good argument- many regular BMJ readers (myself included) think McKinstry’s comments were laughable.

    As a female doctor, who is balancing raising a family with work, I think your concerns are misplaced. Patients do not suffer from having doctors with a life apart from their careers- quite the opposite.

    You are right that recruitment needs some major changes, but the problem isn’t too many female doctors, it’s too few doctors, period.

    And perhaps too many misogynists.

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  2. To Crispy,

    No, I am not a doctor, Crispy. I am a patient who knows how frustrating emergency departments are. Your remarks make it clear that you don’t really understand the needs of your patients.

    “If a male doctor had the same part-time practice I would object just as strongly to that as well. But, it is usually the females who choose part-time careers for obvious reasons.”

    This is the paragraph which I wrote in my post which somehow you must have missed. I am against part-time doctors whose training costs just as much as full-time doctors. The reality is that most part-timers are female and until we can get men to carry babies and give birth to them, this will be the case.

    It has nothing to do with their genitalia, Crispy and I am amazed that you cannot concede that most part-timers are female. Should the situation change and men become part-timers then I will be against that ratio as well. I believe that we need continuity in medicine, particularly in general practice.

    The concept of family doctor is an idealised one nowadays and sadly we are the worse for its loss. Just as there was positive discrimination to get more women into certain jobs, such balancing goes on all the time and should not be regarded as being sexist, per se.

    We need more doctors in the country hospitals and we need more full-time doctors in the city. That is the reality and quite frankly, I support whoever will provide full-time medical services to the community, no matter what genitalia that person has.

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  3. There is another issue. If you need surgery, you need the best available surgeon. Unfortunately, with notable exceptions, the great majority of the best surgeons are men. Today, in many medical schools, graduates who 25 years years ago would be predominately men, are now predominately women. Looked at factually, this means a crisis is looming. As today’s surgeons get older and retire, the number of first rate surgeons available to the next generation is likely to be distinctly less.

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  4. To Paul Clieu,

    You are perfectly correct, Paul. I had not thought about the issue that you mentioned and it sounds valid if one considers the current sorry state of GP representation. I must admit that I don’t really know how good female surgeons are. You did say “with notable exceptions” so I would be interested in knowing who these female surgeons are. I can only think of Fiona Wood and my Gastro-Enterologist, for example. I never choose to go to a female doctor because of her gender, however. My choice depends on how competent the doctor is. Supporting my gender is of no consequence to me.
    What I do know is that females, as a general rule, don’t want to go into specialisation and that includes surgery, because it interferes with their lifestyle.
    I am not condemning the fact that they want to raise families, but I do question whether their career choice is of benefit to society in terms of money spent on their training.
    The looming imbalance in surgeons that you write about and feminisation of the profession do worry me.
    Isn’t it interesting that today’s “The Australian” contains an article on “The Dearth of GPs” in which it partly blames the problem on the feminisation of the medical profession?

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