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THE DOCTOR SHORTAGE AND WOMEN PHYSICIANS—Time to Get It Straight

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Introduction by Linda Brodsky, MD

We encourage ETI members to share their perspectives, give advice, and ask (and answer) questions on how our healthcare workforce can be improved for the sake of the patients we all serve. 

ETI members, Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD and Julie Welch, MD are the first to step up to the plate. In response to a recent NY Times op-ed (and ensuing debate) about women physicians’ potential contribution to a hypothetical future physician shortage, Rohr-Kirchgraber and Welch are offering their thoughts on what you need to know (and say) to counter foolish answers to a complex issue. Click here for their full response in Modern Medicine.

Seven Points to Remember When Women are Blamed for the “Doctor Shortage.”

By Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD and Julie Welch, MD

  1. At the same time the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) called for an increase in the number of students entering medical school, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) set work hours restrictions on residency training at 80 hours/week. These changes, affecting both men and women, changed young graduates’ perceptions of the need or the desirability to work 100+ hours/week, as physicians did a generation ago.
  2. The “part time” physician is a misnomer. Even if a physician spends 30 hours with patients, (i.e. clinical commitment), one needs to account for time for self-education, teaching, advocacy, or research work that is not accounted for in the “part time” definition.
  3. Many physicians who work a forty hour work week consider themselves part-time.  Since there is no standard definition in the medical field, and most surveys rely on self-reporting, the concept of “part-time” for a physician is not the same as other professions.
  4. Work life balance is not only a gender issue, but a generational issue and affects men as well. When physician satisfaction and retention are examined, both men and women equally desire flexible work options and strive for work life balance.
  5. Physicians are held to at least the same societietal expectations as others including in their roles as wives, husbands, parents, etc. Women opened the conversation about work life balance, but a majority of men, too, report a struggle to find balance. 
  6. It is irrational and unhealthy for a physician to sacrifice his/her own work life balance or self-care allegedly for their patients’ sake. Physicians, who ignore their own health, cannot be as effective and therefore, patients actually suffer in the long run.
  7. The medical doctor (MD) degree can be used for many useful purposes, only one of which is caring for patients. Research, administration, political policy, education, pharmaceutical consulting, bio-tech entrepreneurism, writing and many other endeavors have been chosen by physicians.  Therefore, to blame women physicians for a “physician shortage” is incorrect.  This negative message helps no one and will get us no closer to delivering the best patient care possible.

One Note

  1. Let’s start with the facts. From 1991-2001, there was a 26% increase in the number of physicians in the US. The number of physicians per 100,000 population rose from 214 to 239. The ratio of generalists to specialists remained at 1:2. The numbers don’t support a shortage.

    Well, what has happened then? More medical options, unnecessary tests/procedures, increasing lifestyle diseases, doctors under-utilized, internet interference, and of course, those darn women doctors.

    Good job Julie and Theresa! Hope to hear more from you and other ETI members.

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