When I decided to become a doctor, what seems like a lifetime ago, I most
certainly jumped before I looked. We all did that. How in the world could we
really have known what a field like medicine really was to practice? How could
we have known what it would be like to live as a physician day in and day out?
How could have have known how choices we made while single would be altered so
dramatically once we were married with kids?
There's a great deal of talk
today about physician satisfaction, especially concerning women. And, with good
reason. Most women I know in medicine have struggled to some degree or another
since leaving residency in finding their footing and figuring out a balance
between work and life that is reasonable. I not only include myself in this mix
but women I know without kids.
I find there's a bit of a mismatch between
surveys cited in major press and even the results of big surveys and what most
of us have experienced. The recent article in the New York Times by
Doctor Pauline Chen is a great example. Dr. Chen cites two national surveys of
female physicians that both explore job satisfaction and concludes that overall
female physicians are satisfied. However, what she doesn't mention in her
article is how out of date those surveys already are. The Womans' Physician Health Study came out in
1999 and the Physician Work Life Study in
2000 from 1998 data. A lot has occurred in the field of medicine for women and
today's women face different struggles in the workplace and at home than women a
A better snapshot of today comes from a more recent survey, released in 2004, by the
website MomMD which concludes that women physicians are only "satisfied":
"Women represent around 25% of U.S. physicians and more than 50% of
incoming medical students. Despite the advancements of women, medicine still
remains a traditionally male dominated career. Even though more than 75% are
satisfied with their career choice so far, the situation for women in medicine
raises concern."What are those concerns?
-- "One quarter had experienced negativity or discrimination as a result of
their parental status, with nearly 40% experiencing gender discrimination at
some point during their career."
-- "As a group, more than 90% of female physicians, medical students and
premeds reported being concerned (with 64% being very concerned) about balancing
family responsibilities with a medical career."
-- "The majority are less than satisfied with their work/life balance, with
one-in-five being dissatisfied. The results also illustrated the relationship
between hours worked and satisfaction levels."The full career and life
balance survey results are here.
This survey also noted an
interesting trend among today's women physicians that has been my experience: an
ability to find a path that put self and family first while still finding a way
to stay in the field of medicine in some capacity even if not in the clinical
Women are very creative and inventive. Sometimes out of necessity,
we create for ourselves the most amazing opportunities. That's what I ended up
doing and it's made a world of difference for me in job satisfaction and life
satisfaction. Health journalism was never on my radar in medical school or
residency, yet here I am today. Then again, the Internet was not even born yet,
at least not in the way we know it today!
As MomMD notes: "....there may be something
there for everyone, even if it does mean leaving medicine altogether.As one
member says "...be happy or find your happiness."" That's what I've done and
today I would definitely fill in the bubble of "satisfied" without
I'm in fantastic company of women in medicine blazing trails
and finding ways to make the mix work between work and life. The more we talk
about what we are all doing, the easier it will be for new grads. Perhaps
someday medical schools and residencies will include more life courses for
medical students and residents, especially for women. I'll gladly give my time
to any program who wants to form a panel or start a life issues course. If any
medical school or residency is listening, give me a call - I know plenty of
women docs who, like me, would be happy to share their stories so future women
docs will be a step ahead from where we were starting out.
©2009 Pediatrics Now. All rights reserved. PEDIATRICS NOW® is a registered
trademark of Pediatrics Now.