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'Don't keep it a secret': One in five female doctors has been sexually harassed at work

Nearly half of female doctors delay starting a family for career reasons.

shutterstock_633619022 Shutterstock / novak.elcic Shutterstock / novak.elcic / novak.elcic

Unconscious gender bias is built into all of us. There was one story about two doctors who were walking along the hospital’s corridors wearing surgical scrubs, and someone asked the woman ‘Nurse, where is the ward?’ The man said he’s never been called a nurse.

RESEARCH CITED YESTERDAY indicates that a doctor’s gender can still be a huge block to their career – especially when it comes to family commitments.

Yesterday, the Irish Medical Organisation and the Bar of Ireland discussed why there were lower rates of women in certain roles within their profession.

It included a 2016 survey of over 519 doctors from GP practices and hospitals in order to measure how urgent gender-related problems are among Irish healthcare professionals.

Some of the more stark findings were:

  • 21% of female non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace during the last two years, while 12% of male NCHDs report the same
  • 28% of female NCHDs report having experience gender-based bullying in the workplace during the last two years, while 6% of male NCHDs report the same

Dr Ann Hogan of the Irish Medical Organisation told that there’s still the impression that there are ‘female skills’ that make women more suited to certain roles.

There’s a very small number of female consultant surgeons, but women are well-represented in general practice, psychiatry, and public nursing.

She says that this may be due to a lack of role models in certain specialties in the healthcare sector.

“One women in my class did surgical training, and then diverted into radiology. None of the women are working in surgery now, as far as I know, while several men are.”

Certain specialties have very low numbers of female consultants, and only 15% of consultant surgeons are women.

Family doctor

Another issue that needs to be addressed was supporting medical professionals achieve a balance between work and their personal lives.

Hogan said that she was ‘disappointed’ to see from the study that 50% of young female doctors said they felt they were ‘mainly responsible’ for family duties, while that figure was zero for young male doctors.

She said that to encourage women to go for the position of surgeon, the supports need to be in place for their out-of-work lives.

“Being a surgeon involves long hours, being on call have to go to work at unsocial hours, so a person doing that needs their family to support them at home, and there are very, very few women working as surgeons.”

Nearly half of female medical practitioners have delayed having children for reasons related to their careers in medicine compared to just 19% of male medical practitioners.

Although the solution to this isn’t immediate or obvious, it could be as simple as making female trainees aware of all their options, and making part-time work more widely available.

But when it comes to issues of sexism, bullying and harassment, Hogan is clear – talk about it with someone and don’t keep it a secret.

Read: Most young doctors are female while most older doctors are male

Read: Working hours, hospital visits, and more gender differences in Irish society

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