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A recent survey by the IMO on gender issues in medicine has highlighted the difficulties women still face in either acquiring or keeping jobs. The study was received responses from 519 doctors (316 women and 203 men).  One anonymous female survey respondent wrote: “I have been asked directly when I plan on having children; at a pre SpR visit to a hospital I was asked by the head why should he give me the job ahead of a man who wouldn’t be taking maternity leave at any stage on the training scheme?”

Eighty two per cent of women working in medicine admitted that they are concerned about the impact that their career in medicine could have on having children, this is significantly more than the 39 per cent of men who were of the same opinion. A similar number (83 per cent) of female doctors claimed that they found it difficult to balance their medical workload with their family commitments, while 73 per cent of male doctors said the same thing.

Almost half of female medical practitioners (46 per cent) have delayed having children due to their career in medicine, which is far more than the just 19 per cent of men who admitted to doing the same. The pressures placed on female professionals were evidently not exclusive to the medical sphere, as women from the law library shared their experiences at the ‘Definitions of Success’ seminar in The Kings Inns earlier this month. In her address Gráinne Larkin, BL and Chair of the Women’s Working Group, alluded to how women in law felt under pressure to keep their pregnancy a secret, in addition to having to suitably plan the time of their pregnancy around their working year.

The survey revealed that the issue of harassment affected both genders, 35 per cent of trainee doctors reported bullying or harassment and 46 per cent said that they had suffered undermining behaviour, but a significantly higher number of doctors who reported such experiences were women. It also highlighted some clear gender distinctions regarding specialty areas; 88 per cent of female doctors and 79 per cent of male doctors believed that gender played a part in a doctor’s choice of specialty.

Both male and female non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) claimed that personal interest was a factor in specialty choice but female NCHDs were more likely to take work-life balance and job flexibility into consideration, 33 per cent, compared to a lower 19 per cent of their male counterparts. President of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Ann Hogan, commented: “It is obvious from the research that gender still continues to impact on careers in the medical profession with family considerations often affecting female practitioners to a greater extent than their male colleagues”.

She also called for the need to inspire female doctors to apply for top consultant positions, as a higher number of men reported being encouraged to do so in their career.

She said that this was particularly necessary in specialties with low numbers of female consultants, such as surgery, where only 15 per cent of consultant surgeons are female. In an all-female panel discussion Dr Hogan stated: “Even just a small number of female consultant surgeons is progress”.

Oonah McCrann, Judge Advocate General to the Defence Forces, called for tax relief on childcare: “People who mind our children are the most important people in the economy and society so they should be valued and paid properly. Equally the people paying them should be getting tax relief because the only reason they’re paying them is because, usually the woman in the family, is working”.

Dr Ailín Rogers, lead non-consultant hospital doctor in Beaumont for the surgical directorate, admitted that she still experiences difficulties as a result of her gender: “Because I’m a woman a certain generation will often completely discount me”.

She speculated that one of the reasons for the greater drop-off of women after they have made it through training to surgical consultancy might be due to the necessity to do a fellowship abroad.

“The statistics speak for themselves, there is a certain amount of gender parity during surgical training but the barriers for women tend to arise after the completion of higher surgical training. When surgeons are about 34 or 35 years of age they go off and do a one-year fellowship abroad and the idea is to hone your technique and skill.

“You’re often doing that at your own expense or certainly at a substantially decreased salary. If you have a family then you have to move the family with you and there’s no guarantee of a job at the end of it, whether you want to continue working abroad or to find a post in Ireland, you still have to compete afterwards. That amount of uncertainty at that stage in your life, often with young kids in tow and/or a mortgage, I think is probably contributing to this significant drop-off in women from training to consultancy”.

The results of the survey will be featured as part of an IMO position paper on issues faced by female doctors in Ireland.