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Pressure on female doctors highlighted in new research

Pressure on female doctors highlighted in new research

Research carried out by the union for senior doctors and dentists has revealed a need for both attitudinal and structural change to encourage more women to participate in the specialist workforce.

The study conducted by Dr Charlotte Chambers, Principal Analyst at the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), involved in-depth interviews with 14 female specialists across a range of specialities. The interview subjects were all aged in their 30s, some of whom were experiencing burnout.

This research was prompted by the results from the 2016 ASMS study into burnout, which found that over 70% of women in their 30s were likely to be suffering from very high levels of burnout (

”At first glance it might seem obvious why this cohort of women are at risk of burnout, “ says Dr Chambers.

“They’ve just finished long and gruelling medical training and at the same time, they have difficult decisions to make about whether or not to have children. But what really struck me from the interviews were the repeated stories of having to take their work home to get it done. For women who have families or want to have a sense of work-life balance, this presents real challenges.

“The women were not experiencing burnout from trying to do too much, or because they aren’t strong enough to be doctors, but because their efforts continue to be judged by outdated notions of dedication and toughness,” Dr Chambers says.

Without understanding the underlying causes, we get left with stereotypes to explain why women as a group are more at risk of burnout.

“They are at risk of burnout because medicine continues to be a form of work based on ideals of unencumbered workers who can immerse themselves in medicine at the expense of all else,” Dr Chambers says.

She says working and training schedules may need to be changed to accommodate more part-time positions. This will require structural changes supported by both district health boards and professional colleges.

Dr Chambers says while the pressures are most acute on women, younger male specialists also have different family responsibilities and attitudes to those of older generations.

She will present her research tomorrow (Thursday) at the ASMS Annual Conference in Wellington.


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