Study shines light on the well-being challenges faced by women in healthcare

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A recent Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health study assesses factors influencing the well-being of women in the healthcare profession.

Study: The Well-Being of Women in Healthcare Professions: A Comprehensive Review. Image Credit: Ground Picture / Shutterstock.com Study: The Well-Being of Women in Healthcare Professions: A Comprehensive Review. Image Credit: Ground Picture / Shutterstock.com

Background

Since 2000, the number of full-time healthcare workers has almost doubled. Women account for a significant proportion of this growth and remain integral to the successful provision of healthcare services. Therefore, it is imperative to understand what contributes to the well-being of women in the workplace. 

Due to the wide range of different roles that women play in society, they can be subject to immense pressure to be successful both at home and in the workplace. This can lead to adverse consequences, such as occupational burnout, psychological distress, anxiety, depression, or even suicidal thoughts.

In the healthcare sector, these adverse effects can lead to loss of patient trust, lack of adherence to treatment protocols, and lower quality care. Thus, it is critical that female healthcare workers, in particular, receive appropriate support.

About the study

In the current study, a total of 71 studies published in 26 countries between 1979-2022 were reviewed. Adult female healthcare professionals between 18 and 74 years of age were enrolled in these studies and included mental healthcare providers, clinical social workers, nurses, and physicians. 

Several well-being-related factors were investigated, including resilience, wellness, burnout, stress, and quality of life (QOL). For the current study, individuals who identified as women were included, irrespective of the sex assigned at birth.

Study findings

This extensive review examined different study designs related to the well-being of female professionals in the healthcare sector across different countries and social contexts. Previous research defined well-being as being disease-free or not having work dissatisfaction; however, this definition is inadequate, as well-being should also encompass promoting happiness, security, and comfort. 

Several studies have reported a negative association between poor work-life balance and a sense of well-being. To this end, women have often been encouraged to prioritize the household's and children's needs rather than their professional development.

About 25% of the reviewed studies suggested that limited professional autonomy and poor working conditions made women experience burnout at a faster rate than their male colleagues. However, the burnout rate was lower when women worked in a supportive environment and had flexible schedules. 

Moreover, 20% of the studies highlighted the importance of personal relationships, in which familial relationships, romance, and friendship positively influenced a sense of well-being among women employed in the healthcare sector. The impact of environmental influence and the individual's lived experience were vital to well-being.

About 16% of the studies revealed that implicit gender bias was a key source of mental distress among female healthcare workers. This was manifested in various ways, including unequal pay, fewer opportunities to progress, and not addressing female colleagues by their professional titles. 

Several studies discussed the positive association between intentional mindfulness, exercise, sleep, nutrition, and well-being. The findings from these studies highlight that lifestyle interventions could reduce stress levels, compassion fatigue, and burnout. 

Opportunities to pursue mentoring and professional development had a positive impact in 11% of the reviewed articles. These activities foster a deeper connection with colleagues and lead to a greater sense of belonging, which subsequently provides fulfillment in professional opportunities and higher job satisfaction.

Conclusions

The current review explored the well-being of female professionals in the healthcare sector and further analyzed the correlation between well-being and work-related stressors. Several factors were found to lead to emotional turmoil and job dissatisfaction, which can have severe consequences for the affected individual and the quality of patient care.

The study findings should motivate future research evaluating different levels of gender-sensitive interventions. More prophylactic methods, such as educational workshops, mindfulness practices, and institutional policy, should be implemented to study the effects of more holistic well-being practices for women.

Furthermore, the definition of well-being could be made more inclusive by combining physical and mental health. Well-being should also incorporate a sense of meaning or purpose, life satisfaction, and the ability to manage stress.

Journal reference:
  • Karakcheyeva, V., Willis-Johnson, H., Corr, P. G., & Frame, L. A. (2024) The Well-Being of Women in Healthcare Professions: A Comprehensive Review. Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health 13. doi:10.1177/27536130241232929
Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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