Even in the healthcare world, sexism and ageism are hot issues that need to be addressed. Female doctors are going through menopause with no support from supervisors or colleagues due to sexist and ageist attitudes, a new study finds.
The study by the British Medical Association (BMA), the professional association and registered trade union for doctors in the United Kingdom, has found that females doctors going through menopause are reducing their houses, moving to lower-paid roles, or retiring early from medicine due to sexism and ageism in hospitals.
The BMA has tracked a strong pattern of highly experienced women leaving G.P. partnerships, leaving medicine early, and ending their positions as directors and clinical leaders, since they grapple to cope with menopause symptoms. They are also subjected to sexist and ageist attitudes when talking to their managers about their menopause.
What is menopause?
Menopause is characterized as the point in time when the menstrual cycle permanently ceases due to the natural depletion of ovarian oocytes from aging. A menopausal diagnosis is made retrospectively after the women have missed her menstrual flow for 12 consecutive months.
On average, most women have menopause in their late 40’s to early 5-0’s. In the U.K., the average age of a woman to experience menopause is 52 years old. Some women, however, may have it earlier in their 30’s and 40’s.
Women who go through menopause experience a multitude of symptoms that results from low levels of reproductive hormones, especially estrogen. Low estrogen levels can lead to vasomotor instability, which can cause night sweats and hot flashes. Some women also experience psychological changes, such as mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and depression.
The majority of the 3.4 million women between the ages of 50 and 64 in the U.K. will be suffering symptoms of menopause, including heart palpitations, insomnia, headaches, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal pain and dryness, recurrent urinary tract infections, and a reduced sex drive. Many women also experience mood changes, feelings of sadness, memory problems, inability to focus, and anxiety, among others.
The study findings
In the study, the researchers surveyed 2,000 doctors to shed light on the challenges for doctors working through the menopause. The team wanted to determine the experiences of doctors and the areas which could help support doctors during this time.
The researchers found that more than a third said they are willing to make changes to their working lives due to menopause but were not able to do so. Further, more than 90 percent of the respondents said their menopause symptoms had impacted their working lives.
About half of the respondents also said they wanted to discuss their symptoms to their employers, seeking support but did not feel comfortable in doing so. Man women also said that they would experience being laughed at or ridiculed by both their managers and colleagues if they spoke about the menopause. Only 16 percent of the doctors had discussed their symptoms with their managers or supervisors.
Almost half said they had wanted to discuss their symptoms and seek support but did not feel comfortable doing so. A significant number said they would be “laughed at or ridiculed” by both managers and peers if they spoke about the menopause. Only 16% of respondents had discussed their menopause symptoms with their manager.
“It is extremely concerning to find that some women may be permanently stepping back from senior positions in medicine – a key cause of the gender pay gap – and the health service may be losing highly experienced staff because of inflexibility and a lack of support during a relatively short phase of life,” Dr. Helena McKeown, BMA representative body chair, said.
“The health service is under immense pressure, and we cannot afford to lose experienced doctors because of a lack of flexibility and support,” she added.
What can be done?
The report also emphasized ways to better support doctors who are going through menopause in the workplace. The researchers said that “breaking the taboo” should be done in the workplace, and the employers should take a pro-active approach to normalize the topic of menopause. Further, they said that disseminating information about this stage in a woman’s life may help the women feel more secure.
Spreading awareness of how menopausal symptoms impact their work will help other people understand the menopausal female doctors more. The team also recommends access to flexible working to help the symptoms of menopause more manageable and to improve the morale of female doctors.
Further, the team recommends adjustments to the workplace by improving room ventilation, support for mental health and well-being, and developing an inclusive culture to address sexist and ageist behaviors in the workplace.