Challenges facing women in medicine
With an increasing number of women with a medical career, the challenges faced by these women can be immense. MomMD members share their thoughts.

Taking on too much?

"We all want to be SuperDoc, SuperMom and SuperWife - and it's impossible to do it all" states Dr. M. She continues, "many of the women physicians I know who have survived both marriage and training, think the keys are a helpmate who understands that he does not "babysit" his own children, and the ability to hire outside help for the necessary drudgery of household life.... when you get right down to it, how many of our children will notice a little dust - or remember it when they've grown. They really only remember that we dropped everything to give them our undivided attention".

In some instances taking on too much unfortunately results in "burnout". The desire to quit can affect women at all stages of their medical career, from the early premedical days, through medical school, residency and on throughout professional life. Knowing when to 'quit' a project, course, marriage, commitment, job or career, obviously requires careful thought and consideration, especially when some women are apt to consider themselves failures by 'giving up'. Sometimes it helps to say no to 'smaller' concerns or commitments adding unnecessary stress, leaving time to focus on the bigger issues. A difficult, yet worthwhile skill is knowing when and how to say no. Discussing issues to friends, colleagues or family often helps.

Part-time work

Going part-time allows women physicians to spend more time with family. "First of all, most women leaving residency are already with a young family or soon to start one... My pediatrician women friends found themselves taking part-time schedules and becoming second class citizens in their practice. Also, part-time usually means part-time pay with more than part-time work. A lot of women I know who go into a practice part-time in order to be there for their family end up never becoming a partner, and therefore have no security and little decision making power about, not only their hours, but their practice as well," says Dr. D.S.

Dr. D.S., a pediatrician and mother of three, developed her own solution to this problem by starting her own practice. "Being in private practice for 10 years, I strongly suggest taking the extra effort to start your own private practice if your specialty allows, and you will give yourself a whole lot of flexibility. I started working for other practices and found that you are feeling guilty about getting pregnant, and no one will give you a mommy schedule except yourself".

How did she do it? "I joined another woman to build our own practice. Granted, we did not take a salary for six months, however, we quickly become well known and within three years I have three more doctors working for me, and I work 16 hour as a week. I make the schedule with a lot of 10am-3pm shifts and I take 6 weeks vacation. Best of all, I make about $175,000 a year. I can't ask for more than that".

Less Pay

There are many factors that contribute to a women physician earning less pay than her true potential. "Professionally, since most of us still take on the bulk of responsibility at home, we may have a reduced salary for seeing fewer patients (whether or not we spend more time with each individual patient) and that, not the typical male/female salary discrepancy is an issue - most of us truly have salaries that are productivity based. If we choose to be on multiple hospital committees so that we can move up the administrative ladder, most of these are also not reimbursed so you lose even more family time - all a problem during the time we're raising our children," states Dr. M.

Dr.S., a surgeon, comments, "one of my biggest concerns about medicine has been the shrinking reimbursement. I know it is not politically correct to think about things like this, but it is a practicality. I am a surgeon. I have noticed many more women going into medicine and surgery. While this is a great trend, I think we should consider why this might be. Historically in this country, as the average pay of a particular profession decreases, more women are either encouraged to or tend to go into it. (Think about teaching 30-40 years ago) and now medicine. We will have 50% of the physicians in this country being female in the next 20 years, but we will work harder and make much less money than when the majority of physicians were male. In addition, that which we women tend to do best such as spending time with people, dealing with social issues, being an advocate affords little to no remuneration".

This article is based upon the feedback of MomMD members. Through communication and discussion MomMD hopes that, both individually and as a group, we can all contribute to a changing face of medicine.

What are your thoughts? Got more to say? Join the MomMD Physician Forum.

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