Women Docs Get Job Satisfaction from Blazing New Trails

| by Dr Gwenn
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 However, what she doesn't mention in her article is how out of date those surveys already are.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 decade earlier.

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 sense.

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 " happy or find your happiness."" That's what I've done and today I would definitely fill in the bubble of "satisfied" without hesitation!

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.
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