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Women in White Coats: What Trends Are We Seeing with Female Physicians?

What Trends Are We Seeing with Female Physicians?

Times, they are a-changin’. And within a large majority of today’s operating rooms and medical offices, so is the gender of many practicing physicians. The increasing number of women donning the white coat has seen a gradual, yet steady, shift over time—and it’s a shift that is only ramping up with each passing year.

As the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported, 2019 marked the first year in which women made up the majority of students in United States medical schools.

While the margin was slim (50.5% compared to 49.4% of male students), the new reality is that female physicians are more prevalent than ever before. And they are most certainly making their mark.

Family and Child Specialties Top the List

But where specifically are those marks being made? According to an article by AAMC, female physicians remain concentrated in family and child specialties. “The specialties with the highest percentage of women are primarily focused on children and women,” the article states. These include:

  • Pediatrics—64.3%
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology—58.9%
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatry—54.0%
  • Neonatal-perinatal Medicine—52.8%”

On the flip side, female physicians continue to remain a “significant minority” in the following specialties, according to the article:

  • Urology—9.5%
  • Pulmonary Disease—12.3%
  • General Surgery—22%
  • Orthopedic Surgery—5.8%

One interesting trend that continues to gain traction is female physicians taking on the world of Sports Medicine. This particular specialty had “remarkable growth” since 2014 according to the article, skyrocketing by 55.3%. Similarly, the separate specialty of orthopedic surgery within sports medicine also saw a notable increase of 39.8% since 2014.

Female Physicians’ Salaries Continue to Fall Short

And speaking of increase, there’s another all-too present trend that continues to stick around: inequality between male and female physicians.

According to a recent article by Health Affairs, female physicians earn substantially less than male physicians over a simulated 40-year career. “Gender differences in career earnings were largest for surgical specialists ($2.5 million difference),” the article states, “followed by nonsurgical specialists ($1.6 million difference) and primary care physicians ($0.9 million difference).

These findings imply that over the course of a career, female physicians are estimated to earn, on average, more than $2 million less than male U.S. physicians after adjustment for observable factors that may otherwise explain differences in income, such as hours worked, clinical revenue, practice type and specialty.”

Doctor Mom: Finding a Way to Juggle It All

Another trend we’re seeing as time goes by? Physician moms. Although motherhood is anything but a trend, the world of healthcare is continuing to see an upward trend of female physicians with dependent children.

And, as we have discussed previously, this particular niche of physicians is supporting one another along the way as they juggle children and a demanding healthcare system that wasn’t necessarily designed with them in mind.

“As women become a major force within the medical community, healthcare executives and administrators, many of whom are men, are tasked with creating an environment that prioritizes retaining and supporting female physicians in order to maintain a robust workforce,” according to an article by athena health.

Flexibility is Fundamental

For many female physicians, that support comes down to scheduling. “Flexibility in scheduling is critically important,” says Dr. Danielle Ofri, Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University. “If you allow your medical staff to work a schedule that doesn’t force them to sacrifice family or clinical time, they will be much more productive.

Luckily for the system, motivation is rarely a problem—most doctors want to do excellent clinical work and just need their employers to make that possible.”

As female physicians continue to become less of a minority, they are shifting the mindsets of patients who have predominantly pictured physicians in one specific way: male.

“If you ask patients, they’ll say they just want a doctor who is competent, caring, and dedicated,” says Dr. Ofri. “While many may start with a stereotypical image of the older, white, male doctor, as soon as they spend time with a doctor who is committed and enthusiastic, the old stereotype usually fades away.”

Stomping out stereotypes and taking the world of healthcare by storm. For female physicians, that’s anything but a trend. It’s just another day at the office.

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