Are Female Doctors Creating Their Own Glass Ceilings By Not Networking?

“Samantha: Give me my chart. I’m going to find some woman doctor, some hot woman doctor, who understands what this [points to female parts] is all about.

Doctor: I just meant statistically…..

Samantha: You’re lucky to have touched my breasts.” -Sex & the City

According to new data reported by The Independent, female doctors are expected to outnumber their male counterparts in what a medical journal describes as a “giant leap for womankind.” Women have outnumbered men in medical schools for a decade and are set to become a majority of the medical workforce by 2017 in England. Though this is a great accomplishment, there is still a problem. There will be more women doctors but they will not be in the top positions.

According to recent studies on the medical industry in England, female doctors don’t network and promote themselves as much as men in order to get those top positions. In 2004, Dame Carol Black, then president of the Royal College of Physicians,warned that if women didn’t campaign more for these high-power positions the state of the medical industry could be weakened.  She said this was not about women’s capacity to perform, but about their willingness to devote the time and effort, beyond their medical responsibilities, to furthering the interests of the profession. Men were happy to give up their evenings, sit on committees and eat dinners for a chance to walk the corridors of power. It was not clear, Lady Black suggested, whether women would have the same appetite for networking.

Now this was a British study but it seems the same problems exist in the U.S. Male physicians are still making more than women across every specialty, according to a new study by WebMD that surveyed 15,000 doctors in the U.S.  Women physicians earned a median of $160,000 while men reported a median of $225,000. We talked to a few female doctors about this:

Dr. Carole Lieberman told The Grindstone:

“The practice of medicine in general is going through tough times  because of the government intervening too much and doctors being paid too little.

Most  women are not driven to become leaders in medicine because they put  their families first, so things will get worse, the higher the percentage of women doctors gets.”

A big problem for female doctors is trying to combine a top-level career and having a family. This means there are very few female role models at the top end and that is an issue. Part of the problem is the need for flexible working, but that is much easier now. Women have been outnumbering men in pediatrics and general practice but they are still the minority in cardiology and surgery. According to the American College of Surgeons and the American Association of Medical Colleges, of the 50% of female physicians, only 20% of surgeons are women. In 2003, there was a mandatory implementation of 80-hour resident work weeks, which was a major deterrence when it came to women wanting to join the field. Dr. Mary Ann Hopkins, an attending general surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at New York University Medical Center, talked to The Grindstone about the difficulty of work/life balance with this career.

It’s probably because of the long hours and the family sacrifices that you have to make. Since it is such a male-dominated field, it’s hard to say, ‘Well I only want to work three days per week or part time.’ It’s simply the hours that are intimidating . . . to anyone, male or female. If you are planning to have a family and children, you may have to commit to a full-time nanny.

Many women, obviously more every year, are choosing to go into medicine, and top fields like surgery, and are making the sacrifices but adding networking to their pile may be too much. Dr. Kate Bullen, the deputy chair of the British Medical Association, said in an interview: “The problem is that women are not standing. When they do stand they have just the same chance of getting the post as a man, but they are not putting themselves forward.”

Though, some feel it is because they are put at an automatic disadvantage because the boys’ club mentality is still very much alive in medicine. Some

Dr. Vicki Rackner, founder of Pain Stompers, told The Grindstone:

“I’m trained as a surgeon–I was the fifth woman through my program. I believe that a big part of the problem is the need to parent the next generation, which largely falls on the shoulders of women.

I also saw that much networking occurs in the male locker room where I was literally not allowed.”

Women need to get into those leadership positions as studies show they bring a different leadership style based on communication, inclusion, relationships and emotional intelligence similar to the “no more heroes” approach required to lead complex organizations. It is recognized that gender diverse boards have improved financial and organizational performance. But the most common challenges seem to be role conflict and structural barriers, including the triple burden of domestic, clinical and leadership responsibilities; part-time work and lack of role models. Hospitals and medical societies need to follow the British Medical Association’s example – which represents more than 140,000 doctors and medical students — with their new initiative, Women in Medicine. The group is trying to boost the number of women in senior medical posts.

It is hard to tell women who have become doctors and surgeons that after all their amazing hard work and accomplishments (they go to school for soooo many years) to get into this noble field we are telling them to do more. But they have to do this in order to get those top positions.

Photo: NBC

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