Headlines: June 3rd, 2009

The majority of doctors will be women within the next decade and the Royal College of Physicians says that integrating them will become a major issue for the health service. The College has published the findings of a two-year review looking at the gender balance in medicine and the implications this will have for the profession, the NHS and health service managers.

The report, published today, shows that on present trends women will make up the majority of GPs by 2013 and the majority of the medical work force some time after 2017. It finds that women are more likely to work part-time and to focus on particular specialities. There is no evidence that they are more likely than men to leave medicine entirely.

Other key findings reveal that on average women prefer specialist fields with more ‘plannable’ working hours and relatively more interaction with patients. At the level of consultants or partners in general practice, women make up 44 per cent of GP and paediatrics appointments of GPs and almost half in public health but only 8.4 per cent of consultant surgeons are women.

The Royal College says that follow-up research with doctors for 15 years after graduation suggests that on average, taking into account career breaks and part-time working, women prove 60 per cent of a full time equivalent doctor, against 80 per cent for men. It says the findings have implications for work force design, leadership capacity and the future of the consultant role.

The report recommends urgent examination of the organisational implications of changing workforce patterns and preferences in working hours and specialty choices. It also presents a case for the evaluation of the economic impact of changing work patterns, filling the critical information gaps and extending the scope of workforce planning. It urges that individual doctors should be provided with far more information, guidance, and feedback on their career choices and aspirations at each stage in their career.