Friday, 4 April 2008

Carry-On Doctor.

For the first time in the history of the medical profession, the number of women entering medicine has surpassed men. Women in medical schools now outnumber men by three to two, after years of quotas which restricted the numbers of women to 30%. But is this something to be celebrated? No says male doctor Colin McKinstry. In fact, it is a worrying statistic that means the healthcare in Britain is doomed. Ok, he didn’t quite say that, but what he did say sounds very similar. In the future, when all the male doctors retire, this younger generation of women will not be able to replace them because their childcare responsibilities mean that they will all want to work part-time. Very magnanimously, Dr McKinstry acknowledges that this is societies fault:

The main thing we need is a revolution in the attitude of society towards childcare and who has the responsibility for childcare.
I couldn’t agree more. But is Dr McKinstry joining the feminist moving and campaigning for a fundamental shift in the way we view childcare. No. He is recommending that we ensure that 50% of medical students are men. This is to make sure that when the women go off to have babies (as is of course inevitable), the men can take up the slack. Did Dr McKinstry talk to the new generation of women to check that babies and part-time work were definitely in their future? Did he reflect that most women with professional careers, if they work part-time at all, tend to only do so for a short period in their life? Did he consider that perhaps a society where people are expected to work so many hours that the only way having children becomes feasible is to work part-time is unhealthy for everyone? Did he reflect that perhaps men may want to take up the opportunity to be the main carer? In fact, this study suggests that 80% of female and 50% of male doctors anticipate taking a career break at some point. This is not an exclusively female desire.

Dr McKinstry thinks that training more male doctors would also reflect ‘society generally’. The fact that since medicine was professionalised women had to use male doctors, who made up the entire body or vast majority of doctors, and nobody gave a damn about what they wanted makes me very unsympathetic to this argument. Why is it that when men are in a majority nobody minds that women are under-represented, but when this is reversed it’s a humanitarian crisis? When women have dominated the medical profession for three-hundred years come back and talk to me (and let’s face it, women are still under-represented in positions of authority and in, high-status specialisms, such as surgery- this is not a revolution).

Dr McKinstry highlights that female GPs only do 60% of the extra activities involved in work, such as training, teaching, research and committee work- you know the prestigious stuff-, of their male counterparts. It is this ‘fact’ that makes women so problematic to the profession. What I wonder is who is taking up the slack treating the patients when the men are off doing their extra activities? There are only so many hours in the working week and GPs are famously over-worked. I know that the family planning associations are almost exclusively staffed by female GPs who run these clinics outside of their normal working hours. Does this not count as extra activities? Second, while women make up large numbers of students in medical schools, this is a very recent phenomenon. There are still more male doctors in Britain than female doctors. In my area, there are no doctor’s surgeries with more than one female GP, compared to 3 or 4 men. Seeing as training, teaching, research and committee work are performed by people whose careers are well-established, it makes sense that women are under-represented. They are under-represented amongst that age group of doctors.

Furthermore, male doctors are more likely to cost the NHS in relation to poor performance, litigation, re-education and rehabilitation than women. One might ask whether it might be better to have doctors who are able to do their jobs well, than people who are over-worked and exhausted through extra activities. Perhaps, a work-life balance is better for everyone.


Anonymous said...

yeah, I'm not very compelling by the representational argument for the same reasons you cite. It's not like there's any shortage of male doctors if you can't stand being treated by a woman and besides that, it makes you want to turn around and say what about the centuries of male only doctors and all the women who genuinely didn't have a choice.

I'm also not totally sold on the idea that gender is the most important factor when choosing a doctor. I chose a practice full of female ob/gyns when I had my first and it was a horrible experience. They were downright nasty to me, condescending, snooty, awful. It had nothing to do with them being women. I chose a different doctor for my second. I picked him because he is in practice with his brother and mom, it's a small office, they primarily treat lower income women, and even run a clinic in an immigrant heavy neighborhood. In other words, they seemed like people I would like, people who valued the same things I do. And it turned out to be a much better fit.

Point being, he wasn't like me in terms of gender but we had some important things in common and that made him a better doctor for me. ANYWAY. I'm done rambling.

Anonymous said...

i'm not very compelled that should sa