Dr. Helen

Why Are More Women Leaving Medicine?

I wondered about this as I read a story today about doctors leaving the field in droves to pursue other careers:

The news that New York University will offer free tuition to all its medical school students, in the hope of encouraging more doctors to choose lower-paying specialties, offered hope to those wishing to pursue a career in the field.

However, becoming a doctor remains one of the most challenging career paths you can embark upon. It requires extensive (and expensive) schooling followed by intensive residencies before you’re fully on your feet. The idea, generally, is that all the hard work will pay off not only financially, but also in terms of job satisfaction and work-life balance; then there’s the immeasurable personal benefits of helping people, and possibly even saving lives. In terms of both nobility and prestige, few occupations rank as high.

So why is there waning interest in being a physician? A recent report from the Association of American Medical Colleges projected a shortage of 42,600 to 121,300 physicians by 2030, up from its 2017 projected shortage of 40,800 to 104,900 doctors….

“After 20 years, I quit medicine and none of my colleagues were surprised. In fact, they all said they wish they could do the same,” Dr. Amy Baxter told NBC News.

“I began to feel like an easily replaceable cog in the health care machine. With the [enforcement] of EHRs, I had to spend more time as a scribe. One night a child I was treating had a seizure and I couldn’t get the medicine to enable them to breathe because their chart wasn’t in the system yet. This kid was fixing to die and I, the doctor, couldn’t get the medicine. It was demoralizing.”

Baxter left pediatric emergency medicine to head a company that develops physiological products for personal pain management.

Dr. Ha-Neul Seo, director of global recruitment at EF Education First in London, was a general practitioner in the U.K. for several years before heading to the U.S. to study health care management and policy. She wound up leaving medicine to focus on education because she felt, to some extent, she’d defaulted into a career that turned out to be more tedious than expected.

Dr. Nicole Swiner, a physician and author, has stuck with being a doctor because she loves it so much, but she deeply empathizes with those who decide to leave.

“It has gotten worse for all of us, unfortunately — whether you work in the hospital or in the outpatient setting,” she told NBC News. “We are burdened more by nonmedical business or insurance professionals without any medical training. It’s disheartening. ​I have transitioned to more part-time clinical work [so as to focus more on] speaking, writing and consulting.”

The article mentions mostly female doctors and why they leave the field; apparently leaving is more common for women than men:

In the Physician Report, when asked “what do you consider to be the biggest issue(s) facing primary care right now?” 71% of female practicing physicians cited physician burnout, compared to 64% of men. All physicians experience burnout, but Templeton says it is more common for women.

I wonder if women’s tolerance to stress might be lower and they don’t want to deal with the aggravation and difficulties of being a doctor. One of the doctors in the article mentioned they didn’t know medicine would be so tedious. Really? It seems like being a doctor is pretty much known to be demanding or tedious.

Or it may be that women are more likely to have a spouse that can help support the family so they can spend more time with the kids than a male doctor who might have a stay-at-home wife and not be as likely to leave the field to find fulfillment elsewhere. I wonder how much the doctor shortage has to do with more women entering the field and either never practicing or leaving the field. It’s hard to say.