Irish Medical Organisation

Women underrepresented at consultant level in Irish hospitals - IMJ study

Irish Medical Journal Press Release

February 2013 ■ Volume 106 ■ Number 2

Official Journal of the Irish Medical Organisation

Women underrepresented at consultant level in Irish hospitals

Although females represent a high proportion of medical graduates, women are underrepresented at consultant level in many hospital specialities according to a study published in this month’s Irish Medical Journal.

Authors Meghen et al undertook to establish female representation at all levels of the medical workforce in Ireland in 2011 and documented the personal experiences of a sample of female specialists. The findings indicate that females who complete specialist training are wary of pursuing either flexible training or part time work options and experience discrimination at a number of levels. They appear to be resilient to this and tolerate it. Balancing motherhood and work commitments is the biggest challenge faced by female doctors with children and causes some to change career pathways.

The authors say; “Medicine was once a male-dominated profession reflecting the male preponderance in medical schools. Subsequently an increase in female undergraduate entry has led to an even gender balance or slight female dominance in medical schools. Decades later, the effects of this changing demographic at undergraduate level should be evident at senior clinical and academic levels. This has not happened, fuelling speculation about possible barriers and discrimination.”

“The study analysed data evaluating career choices, training obstacles and factors affecting progression of women in hospital clinical and academic medicine in Ireland and is the first study in decades to document women’s participation in hospital and academic clinical medicine in Ireland.”

None of the interviewees wanted special consideration because they were female and this line of questioning often drew a strong reaction. The consensus was that people should be employed on merit. Five of the interviewees had husbands or partners who were either full-time house-husbands or who only occasionally worked and two had parents who had relocated to assist with childcare.

The authors highlight discrimination as an issue; “we also noted that a particularly interesting aspect of all interviews was the subject of discrimination. Female consultants noted that “subtle” questions are asked about family plans at interview level but that they had no issue with this. Another form of discrimination that was evident was bias from patients. Almost one third of the participants in the study had encountered bias from patients. Some participants acknowledged that there was a tendency to become “masculine” so as not to invite discrimination and others acknowledged having to work harder to compensate for being a woman.”

They propose a possible solution “The majority of interviewees saw that more job sharing and part time work as the mechanism to retain women and some noted that flexible work practices would benefit both genders in medicine.” All of the childless and single women interviewed were satisfied with their work life balance. The majority of mothers (17/21) were dissatisfied and felt expectations of them were unrealistic and colleagues assumed they should just make the necessary commitments. Sacrifices were made by all mothers to deliver at work and their children were considered to have suffered. Older mothers expressed bitter regrets and three had dissuaded their daughters from pursuing a career in hospital medicine.

This is the first study in decades to document women’s participation in hospital and academic clinical medicine in Ireland.

Policymakers and those with a responsibility for higher specialist training must evaluate and address the issues raised. This is especially pertinent at a time when the impacts of a potential manpower crisis and the NCHD exodus from hospital medicine are receiving such attention

Participants agreed that women must be committed to achieve their career goals but hoped that in future women would not have to make the sacrifices that they did. What is most striking perhaps is the overwhelming regrets some of the mothers expressed at the sacrifices they had made in relation to their children in order to achieve their career goals

All references and author names are contained in the full article in this month’s IMJ
Title: “Women in Hospital Medicine: Facts, Figures and Personal Experiences p.39”

For further information contact:
Communications Unit,
Irish Medical Organisation,
10 Fitzwilliam Place,
Dublin 2.
Tel. 01 676 7273

IMO Membership

Start reaping the benefits of membership.

If you were previously a member of the IMO you can rejoin here.

Join nowRejoin here ›


Have a question?
Please get in touch with us and we will be happy to answer.