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The Changing Face of Medicine - How will this affect the healthcare industry?

Women Outnumbering Men in Medical School Applications - How will this affect the healthcare industry?

For the first time ever, in 2003-2004, the number of women applying to medical school surpassed the number of men -- 50.8 percent of applicants were women, and 49.2 percent men (Association of American Medical Colleges). However, the number of women actually enrolling dropped to 49.7 percent, while men made up 50.3 percent.

With the number of women climbing, and possibly eventually surpassing the number of men in medicine, it's time to look at how this will affect the industry. In many cases, women handle their professional careers differently than men. Women are more likely to put in extra effort to balance the personal and professional aspects of their lives. Parental leave, flex-time and job-sharing are examples of some of the solutions women have found to help with this balancing act. A New York Times survey cited childrearing as the primary reason that 25 percent of female doctors work less than 40 hours per week, while only 12 percent of male doctors do (ASA News 2001).

The Gender Gap Narrows

Total Physicans*
% male
% female
1990
615,421
83.1
16.9
1996
737,764
78.7
21.3
1998
777,854
77.2
22.8
1999
797,634
76.6
23.4
2002
800,575
73.0
27.0
* includes residents

Source: AMA's "Physician Characteristics and Distribution in US." and Kaiser Family Foundation State Health Facts Online

Fewer Hours Worked

Studies show that female physicians work between 7 percent and 13 percent fewer hours and see up to 14 percent fewer patients than male physicians (Amednews.com 5/14/2001).
This is not to say however, that all women physicians work fewer hours. Many women work more hours, but there is a larger subset of women who work less. Studies also show that younger physicians - of both sexes - work fewer hours and see fewer patients than previous generations of physicians.

Median Patient Visits and Practice Hours per Week

Practice Hours:      
Male Office: 30 Hospital: 5 Other: 20 Total: 57
Female Office: 30 Hospital: 2 Other: 16 Total: 49
       
Patient Visits:      
Male Office: 75 Hospital: 8 Other: 3 Total: 102
Female Office: 70 Hospital: 3 Other: 2 Total: 87

Source: American Medical Association Center for Health Policy Research

Although there is no conclusive data on the subject, it has been suggested that women see fewer patients because they spend more time with each patient than their male colleagues.

Impact on Patient Care

With women physicians taking more time with each patient and communicating more, the perception is increased quality and patient satisfaction. "This could be one reason why patients sue women physicians less, even after adjustments are made for specialties," according to Edward Salzberg, director of the Center for Workforce Studies at State University of New York in Buffalo.


Impact on the current physician shortage

More and more women entering the physician work force will certainly have some impact on the current shortage. If women are working an average of 10 percent fewer hours per week and are heading towards making up 50 percent of the workforce, the number of physicians needed to provide the same number of services will have to increase.


Women in anesthesiology and other specialties

In 2002, Anesthesiology ranked the 6th highest in percentage of women practicing in a specialty. For full list, go to: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/article/171-199.html (Source: Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the US, 2004 Edition and prior editions)

With the changing demographic mix of medical school graduates and the new approaches to finding a balance between work and home, anesthesiology groups need to find ways to accommodate physicians' lifestyles and retain staff in the already tight market.

Milestones for Women in Medicine

  • 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell, America's first woman doctor, graduates from Geneva Medical College in New York.
  • 1850 The Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania is founded. The first medical school for women (it has been co-ed since 1969) is now known as the Medical College of Pennsylvania.
  • 1864 Rebecca Lee, the first African-American woman doctor, graduates from the New England Female Medical College in Boston.
  • 1870 University of Michigan is the first state medical school to fully accept women.
    (Source: Stanford University)

Debra Zelnio is the Marketing Communications Manager at LocumTenens.com

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