FEMALE DOCTORS: Changing the Face of Health Care
Women "flooding into the ranks of doctors" are transforming the profession as well as education and research, the Los Angeles Times reports. Previously "treated as uninvited guests" in a profession that was once a "boys' club," women have "expanded the very definition of what 'health' means." Pushing for more research dollars for breast cancer and other diseases commonly afflicting women, female doctors and medical scholars have "successfully lobbied to have women patients included in more clinical trials." They also have "helped to widen the boundaries of medicine, ushering in consideration" of social problems, including abuse and poverty as issues related to health. Vivian Pinn, director of the federal Office of Research on Women's Health, said, "We are modifying explanations of what the norms in medicine should be, because they were developed by men, for and about men." Despite accounting for 43% of incoming medical students and invoking changes within their professions, women "remain vastly underrepresented in medicine's leadership ranks -- in academia, medical societies and research posts." A recent New England Journal of Medicine study underscored the issue, revealing that although more women enter academic medicine than men, "far fewer advance to senior positions." Only 11% of women are full professors in medical schools, compared to 31% of men. A 1998 survey showed that only 17% of women were tenured, compared to 33% of their male counterparts. Further, only a few medical school deans are female, and women occupy just 6% of department chairs. Moreover, 1997 data revealed that female doctors earn an average salary of $120,000, compared to $175,000 for male physicians.
Discrimination or Choice?
Roughly 60% of females enter "medicine's more nurturing fields," such as family practice, pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology, staying away from the "more lucrative" fields such as surgery. The Los Angeles Times reports that traditional familial responsibilities often steer women into these fields -- which typically offer more flexibility in practice. Female physicians are often wives and mothers, still bearing "the bulk of family responsibilities, leaving them less leeway to climb the career ladder." Janet Bickel of the Association of American Medical Colleges said, "It's still OK for men to close the door and say, 'I'm spending the next 10 hours (working) -- don't bug me.' But it's not OK for women to put their careers first." Dr. Frances Conley, a Stanford neurosurgeon and author of "Walking Out on the Boys," argues that women "are being funneled into less prestigious branches of medicine, which are becoming even more devalued." But others, like Dr. Valerie Ulstad, a Minnesota internist, blames the dearth of mentors and role models for women's lack of progress in medicine. "We need to see other women doing what we dream of doing," she said. But women, like Dr. Kathy Magliato, the first female heart surgeon at Cedars- Sinai Hospital, accomplished her goal without the help of role models. She said, "If you want to take it on, you have to devote your whole life to it." Tracy Kritz, a UCLA family practice resident, agreed, saying, "It comes down to what kind of life you want" (Marquis, 3/10).