More women doctors bad news?

// 4 April 2008

A doctor writing in the British Medical Journal has argued that it is bad news that women outnumber men in medical school – because more women want to work part time, leading to “staffing problems”, reports the BBC.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Colin McKinstry said female doctors were more likely to work part-time, leading to staffing problems.

Women, who now outnumber men in medical schools, were also less likely to take part in training or research, he said.

But opponents said the best candidates should be chosen regardless of gender and flexible working policies improved.

Professor Jane Dacre, vice dean of biomedical sciences at University College London, said rather than worrying about having too many female doctors, there should be more focus on ensuring equal opportunities for medics throughout their careers.

So, presented with the issue that female doctors that have children are lumbered with an unequal burden of childcare responsibilities compared to male doctors (as replicated throughout society), the answer of this GP is not “let’s make things a bit fairer then, shall we”, it’s “let’s have more male doctors”!)

Although, to give him his due, McKinstry does say that this reverses years of men dominating the profession and it would be nice to change the pressures on women to undertake the burden of care, this is a bit rich.

Photo by sean dreilinger, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Stephie // Posted 4 April 2008 at 10:59 am

Even the language used is very telling – more women doctors is “bad for medicine.”

Eh no. Being lumbered with all the childcare responsibilities is…*shock, horror* bad for women.


E-Visible Woman // Posted 4 April 2008 at 11:35 am

I just made a post about this as well.

What a total idiot!

Lily // Posted 4 April 2008 at 11:35 am

Similar thing happening in veterinary medicine as well, apparently:

(Although, I can only shake my head at the Observer’s implication that women become vets because they’ve watched tv docu-soaps about it)

Rooroo // Posted 4 April 2008 at 12:00 pm

Sadly, a lot of my female peers in my year group are resigned to the fact that they’ll go into something like General Practice because the hours etc are better for them.

I was speaking to an SHO and she asked me what I wanted to do (Obs/gynae) and she said, “Whatever you do, NEVER rule out something like being a GP.”

Having said that, a couple of my peers became parents during med school, and the medical school was very supportive to the individuals and their needs and did everything to help. But higher up, a lot needs to change.

Rita Henderson // Posted 4 April 2008 at 12:13 pm

For whom is it bad news? For administrators? Policy makers? The important people in this equation are surely the patients?I would hazard a guess that a sizeable percentage of the patient population view it as VERY good news that they can opt to be seen by a female practitioner.A quick survey among my own family – 75% will choose the female doctor. Who is this McKinstry anyway? I Googled him – nothing there so I guess that tells us a lot.

Wiggly // Posted 4 April 2008 at 12:54 pm


‘For years women have been unfairly discriminated against in medicine. I fully support their role and the strengths they bring to modern medicine. However, in the absence of a profound change in our society in terms of responsibility for child care, we need to take a balanced approach to recruitment in the interests of both equity and future delivery of services.’

So essentially instead of attempting to shift the burden of childcare/domestic labour from women, we whould just change the recruitment procedure because it’s easier than attempting to change societal attitudes/behaviour.

Personally I feel the fact that nearly 80% of medical students come from the top 3 social classes, despite these classes only making up 40% of the population is a more pressing issue.

Anne Onne // Posted 4 April 2008 at 9:51 pm

There’s a good rebuttal at the BMJ here:

I think we’re not going to get an improvement in this until the more demanding dosciplines are made more people-friendly. I think part of the issue is that, as with research and academia, and high-powered anything, men are socialised to want to put in the obsessive antisocial hours, in addition to having the privilege of not having to care about childcare, or be penalised for getting pregnant. Can we honestly blame women for following their socialisation when it means having more time to do things they consider important? Maybe whe should focus on men, for a change, and ask why they are more inclined to work ridiculous hours, whilst not being inclined to help out at home. too often, this is framed in terms of what women are doing wrong. They’re not taking care of their children, or they are picking easy careers, or their demand for flexibility is ruining medicine, or there’s too many women in x field (usually medicine, I remember this argument or a similar one), but absolutely no focus on how the male doctors can afford to put in the hours in the big player jobs (er, by having a wifey at home to look after their sprogs and do everything), adn how we socialise boys to value success at the expense of family, and girls to value family and their future husband’s needs before their own. We need to ask why do the very demanding, high hours jobs need to be such? We need an overhaul. And better provision for childcare. And more husbands who

But you know what, that means that as a society, the last people we should be blaming or scritinising is women doctors. We put them in a position where this choice is often the best one for them, and we have no right blaming them.

I know that people here aren’t, but the whole article was basically an attack on uppity women for daring want to go into medicine unless they become ‘bad mothers’ Daily Male style and abandon their children, work ridiculous hours, despite the fact they probably have a husband who doesn’t pull his weight.

I think jobs that give you more time have an obvious desirability. They can give you more time to raise a family, but even if you don’t want children, they can give you time to pursue interests or fulfil anything else you want to do. You may get less pay, but you’ll get mroe time to spend it in, and we should be encouragint more people to value more than just money in a job. They’re not a bad thing per se. But the fact they’re tagged as ‘women’ jobs, the fact that we sneer at women for taking them, because they’re somehow ‘worse’ than jobs we see as male, when we actively encourage women to value what these jobs have to offer is cruel.

Sorry, that all got a bit rambly.

Wiggle, it doesn’t have to be an either/or issue. This thread is about women, but I agree with you about class.

I’m very suspicious as to why universities just have to know which school you attend when applying (and even more leery of Oxbridge who demand photographs), and would really like to se racism, sexism homophobia, transphobia and classism addressed better with respect to university admissions.

The fact that there is also classism doesn’t take away from the fact that women and minorities are underrepresented and marginalised. It’s in combination with it.

Anne Onne // Posted 4 April 2008 at 9:58 pm

Ah, also, feministe had a good link up of a video in which a young female doctor talks about why some fields such as dermatilogy are attractive to women (and some men) in her career:

In the video, if I recall correctly, the couple had two young children, and both were applying for placements in dermatology.

Wiggly // Posted 5 April 2008 at 9:19 am

I’m well aware that it’s not an either/or issue – gender is intersected by class and race. Each of these factors have an impact – it’s highly complex.

What you say is absolutely correct about men being able to ‘have it all’ – they can do the crazy hours and still reap the benefits of having a family life – why? Because the woman bears the brunt of the childcare/domestic responsibilities. The man doesn’t have to worry about a thing because in most cases it doesn’t even occur to him that he has to.

A woman on the other hand grows up with the knowledge that she’s going to be the primary carer – if she doesn’t play out this role she’ll be judged badly. However if she chooses not to have children, she’ll still be treated with suspicion. You can’t win.

It’s societal attitudes that need to change.

Cruella // Posted 5 April 2008 at 1:24 pm

We have to get out of this mentality of thinking that women who have children are less able to do challenging jobs. If that were the case then all the successful women in society would be childless – but they’re not – look at this piece. And if it’s all about putting in the hours, where are the articles bewailing the men taking up golf? If a guy takes six months off because he’s ill and comes back on a few hours a week to start with, no-one loudly announces he’s ruined his career.

I really think in the modern world too, the idea of working “part time” should just be dropped. Individuals should be in a position to negotiate with their employer over how many hours they work. Guys who were into golf could work a four-day week, people struggling to make ends meet could do longer. And anyway we should define jobs in terms of what needs doing, not how many hours the employee needs to be there. Many components of jobs could be done at home on a laptop or while traveling. It’s just lazy management when these options haven’t been looked into and exploited.

james // Posted 5 April 2008 at 11:22 pm

Do you really think these women are ‘lumbered’ with an unequal burden of childcare responsibilities? That seems a rather unsubtle analysis.

These women have excelled in education in the face of the Patriarchy, become doctors in the face of the Patriachy, excelled in their careers in the face of the Patriachy, it seems a bit far fetched to suggest they suddenly give up because their husband’s throw a strop and tell them they’ll be doing the housework from now on. In most couples I know the woman has made the decision that she will be doing most the child care, and the man has not has not really had much of a say in things. In any case, these women certainly command enough money to employ fulltime childcare should they wish. I’m sure some women are forced out the labor market by childcare, but not these women.

I also don’t really think the problem is childcare in this instance. Women doctors tend to work part-time even after their children are independent, continue to work part-time after their children are grown, and retire young. It isn’t because of childcare – they’d just rather not do the work. The problem is that you can live quite confortably on a part-time doctor’s salary and pension, and if you don’t have social pressures compelling you to work full time there’s not really much reason why you would. This is obviously good for them, but bad for the rest of us who are paying £250k for their training. I think the solution is probably to load them up with debt.

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