This post mainly serves to highlight some of the excellent research that has emerged from the University College London Medical School, where several of the TEDxUCL Women Team members currently study.
Specifically, the UCLMS faculty, in collaboration with the Royal College of Physicians of London, has made a significant contribution to the empirical evidence and the debate on women in the medical workforce.
Recent data have raised concern that the number of women entering the medical profession was rising at an alarming rate. Most of the concern was related to the high number of women gaining entry to UK medical schools. There was little research published to show what happened to these women after qualification, and whether they continued in the profession in proportion to the numbers applying. There was also circumstantial evidence that women were not well represented in leadership positions and in some specialties such as surgery and clinical academia.
A research steering group chaired by Professor Jane Dacre (UCL) raised some awkward and difficult questions concerning the subject of women in the medical workforce. There were 4 key findings:
1. The changing trends in entry to the profession.
The number of women entering medicine had been rising steadily until 2007, since when numbers have stabilised. Women and minority ethnic groups are represented in proportion to their numbers in school age children, but white males are under-represented. The reasons for this are not clear.
2. Choice of specialty.
There is so called gender segregation in the profession, with women choosing to enter a small group of specialties which involve activities which are easier to plan, and would fit in better with childcare and other responsibilities; and which are less likely to require high level technical skills. Women prefer more out patient based and consultation rich specialties.
3. Modes of working.
Women have a greater preference for part time working than men, although the number of sessions worked in these part time posts equates to at least 3 days per week. This has implications for planning the numbers needed in the workforce.
Women are well represented at the consultant level in most specialties within medicine. The exception is with surgical specialties. They are not well represented at the elite levels of the profession and in clinical academia, e.g. as Deans of medical schools or as presidents of Medical Royal Colleges. Data on women at the most senior levels of medical leadership are scant.
The results of this research have raised some difficult questions for workforce planners, and for the Department of Health and Medical Royal Colleges. Debates about the issues that relate to the economics and equality issues of having a majority female medical workforce are now in the open, and current values are being questioned following discussion of the results of the research. The benefits of this research to the medical profession include a focus on the gender balance of the workforce in the next stages of medical workforce planning, while benefits to the workforce include a more effective focus on realistic planning of careers in the different branches of medicine.
This research has transformed the evidence base that relates to women and their contribution to the medical workforce. Its impact has been highlighted by the amount of media interest generated whenever the topic is raised. It provides a reference for future work on the changing demographic of the medical profession, and data for comparison with other professional groups. The results are being used in workforce planning, and are influencing the policy makers in the issues to consider in relation to the changing demographic of the workforce.