New research asks if medicine is fast becoming a woman’s domain. In the UK, female doctors are set to outnumber their male counterparts by 2017, a trend that British press headlines have dubbed “worrying” and “bad for medicine.”
In an editorial by Maham Khan from Imperial College, London in this week's issue of Student British Medical Journal authors suggest that femininization is a fact but the rise of female doctors is bridging the gender divide. “For 500 years men have dominated the medical profession and that has been seen as the status quo, but as soon as there's a sniff of women dominating the profession there is a crisis,” Jane Dacre, medical school director at University College, London, said in the journal article. She added, “I don't think we have yet reached an era of feminization. What we are doing is reaching equality.”
There have been studies that suggest women dominate in specialties such as general practice, pediatrics and palliative care with far fewer female doctors working in fields such as cardiology and surgery. Professors interviewed by Khan said that women are not reaching the highest positions in medicine for a variety of potential reasons, including fewer women applying for distinction awards and limited access to top jobs. Khan asked other questions like “why are men becoming an endangered species in medicine?” and what could be done.
Will Coppola of University College London told Khan boys are under achieving at school and medicine is a less attractive career for men who are opting for finance and information technology instead. He suggested having more male graduate students apply to medical school to help bridge the gap.
Khan suggested that a female future for medicine could actually lead to safer practice. A review of complaints received by the National Clinical Assessment Service showed women were less likely to be subject to disciplinary hearings, she said. Over eight years, 490 male doctors were banned from seeing patients compared with 79 women.
A report by the Royal College of Physicians warned in 2009 that the gender balance of the profession was changing so fast it threatened the care of patients. Women were more likely to work part time and to break their careers to have families, and competition for less female-friendly disciplines such as surgery would be reduced.
Alan White, professor of men's health at Leeds Metropolitan University – who led the study published in the British Medical Journal – said intervention should start in schools to give boys “skills to make healthier decisions throughout their lives”.