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Defining the Work Habits, Attitudes and Experiences of Women In Medicine

Women MD Resources Leads In Research in the Way Women Physicians Work

WHCDo women physicians work differently?  Absolutely.  Does it make a difference? Probably.  How well are they doing for their patients?  We don’t know.  And since women now comprise 33% of women physicians, this is not a casual question, but an important but poorly studied topic.

In conjunction with the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), WMDR participated as a principle investigator in a funded planning grant to submitted  on just this topic.  What did we study?  What did we find?  We presented this work at two meetings this month–AMWA in NYC March 15-17 and the Women’s Health Congress in DC March 22-24, two fabulous conferences.

The literature review was an unexpected revelation in the enormous deficiencies in what we know and what is being recommended which might explain why women physicians are not integrating into all of the healthcare workplaces as well as we would expect after a pipeline filled for at least 20-25 years.

We completed a qualitative literature review from 1990-2012 using Ovid search with key words:  women in medicine, gender differences, practice style, and work-life balance.  100 abstracts whittled down to 40 papers provided information which focused on 4 recurring and highly relevant themes.

Four themes:  practice style, attitudes (about and by women), work environments, and measurements of productivity.  The limited information available in each area led us to identify the deficiencies in the literature.   And there were many but the good news is that we can overcome these if we recognize the shortcomings and design future studies accordingly.

Our conclusions?  1.  Evaluating a woman’s performance based on a male standard is the basis for every study and inherently disadvantages women from the start and undervalues the qualities women physicians bring to the workplace.   2.  The literature is very limited by healthcare systems that embrace preconceived ideas about what will affect the way women work.  These ideas are probably very wrong.  3.  And the most common recommendations are not helpful in their “adapt” or “exit” options.

So what’s next?  This literature review has re-framed our intended grant proposal.  We are setting the stage for shaping future research questions to define the work habits of women physicians.  We have contextualized the four themes that will yield the most information.  We have found that the methodology lacks the socio-anthropological approach needed to dig deep into women’s experiences, starting with focus groups and structured interviews with diverse pools of women physicians, finally leading to longitudinal follow up over many years.

New approaches to research about women physicians are destined to dismantle gendered schema that restrict their entry and full participation in the healthcare workplace.  This knowledge should translate into a better appreciation, utilization retention and the ultimate benefit from women physicians.






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