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Flexibility in the Workplace: Women Physicians Are the Canaries in the Healthcare Coal Mines

Mass Career

The Ebbs and Flow of the New Traditional Career

Last week I wrote about flexibility in transforming the careers of women physicians. Necessary but not sufficient.  Now, how do we build flexibility into the workplace?

Generally evolving workplace trends are also operant for physicians in the healthcare workplace. These trends include:

  • Demographics–relatively speaking, fewer doctors will be available to take care of the increasing needs of an expanding patient population.
  • Family structures–only 17% of workers have a “traditional” family structure that is adaptable to the “traditional” workplace where one (male) worker will work hard only in the workplace and the other (female) partners will work hard at the rest of their lives.
  • Evolved expectations of generations X and Y–most (83%) want to work hard in all parts of their life, not just in the workplace. Attitudes of the younger generations have no gender split about work-life integration.
  • Increasing numbers of women–we have reached a critical mass.  Our work habits/patterns, the barriers for achievement, and our biological imperatives at critical times of our lives all play a role.
  • Changing expectations of men–older men who missed their children’s childhoods are opting NOT to miss their grandchildren’s.
  • Increasing impact of technology–new ways of how, where, and when work can be done.

So what does this mean?  It means that we have to collaborate to change the structure of the healthcare workplace to meet the needs and expectations of the changing healthcare workforce. How do we get there?  Women are going to lead the way.  We are the canaries in the healthcare coal mines.

If women attempt to make unilateral changes within the confines of the rigidly structured healthcare workplace of today, we will fall into the trap of always being “the exception.” And with this exceptionalism comes marginalization, unfair labor practices and a general dis-ease with embarking on a different path.

We all need to assess and re-assess what we need, what works for us, and our priorties as they change in response to new events in our lives.  This process needs to be part of the conversation of how each of us interacts with the expectations of  the workplace.  And it has to occur  for everyone so it becomes the newly established norm in which everyone participates.  No stigma, no marginalization, no exceptions all of which breed jealousy, contempt and imbalance.

If you are a CEO of a hospital or a dean of a medical school it’s time to start thinking about how your growth and profitability can be enhanced.  Focusing on patients is paramount to as successful a healthcare experience as possible.  But what about the other major customers, the physicians? It’s a group seldom considered in this way.  The way physicians worked in the past has little applicability in a system which moves faster, has more information to digest, and is in every way much more stressful.

Diversity of the physicain healthcare workforce needs a new response–mass career customization, an idea  implemented in the business world by two women at Deloitte and Touche , a world leader in the management and deployment of human resources. Their creative insights promote  the “ladder” approach be replaced by the “lattice” approach, which better reflects the more natural ebbs and flows of modern work-life integration.  Not just for women, but for the new generation of all physicians who need a new model to perform their best.

We have a lot more to learn from our business friends. Stay tuned for more on how we can better align our healthcare workplace with the needs and talents of the emerging diversity of the healthcare workforce.  And let the women lead the way.


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