Is Medicine a “Family-Friendly” Profession?

Women who are doctors are more likely to have children than women in other fields, and less likely to stop working when they start families, according to a report from The New York Times, suggesting that medicine’s culture is changing to allow for more flexibility and improved work-life balance.

Depending on the specialty, doctors and other health care workers may have more control over their hours than they used to, because they are more likely to work for hospitals or large group practices where colleagues can substitute for one another, share resources, and divide on-call, night, and weekend work.

While the authors noted that female doctors are still paid 67% of what their male counterparts earn, that figure increases to 82% after adjusting for hours worked, specialty, and years of experience. Also, on average, women younger than 45 work 10 fewer hours per week than men in the same specialty.

Specialties with predictable schedules and shorter hours tend to attract women, but men are looking for more time off and flexibility, too. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges’ annual survey, 80% of male medical school graduates say work-life balance had a strong or moderate influence on their choice of specialty – up 10% in the last decade.

However, The New York Times article drew criticism on social media from female doctors who argue that the profiled women have had to make major sacrifices in their careers, and that the profession is still riddled with gender inequities like leadership and pay gaps.

“If the only way to have a family is to choose to be underemployed, that doesn’t really sound ‘family-friendly’ to me,” tweeted Arghavan Salles, MD, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Miriam Knoll, MD, of Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, suggested the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education could support women in medicine who want to have families without sacrificing their careers by establishing a standard parental leave policy for residents.

Sources: The New York Times, August 21, 2019; MedPage Today, August 22, 2019.