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Last Updated: Monday, 2 August, 2004, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Women docs 'weakening' medicine
female surgeon
More women than men are entering medicine
A top female doctor has warned the medical profession's influence could be damaged by the number of women choosing to be medics.

Women doctors are expected to outnumber men within a decade.

But Professor Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians, told the Independent that could affect how the medical profession was seen.

She said she believed female-dominated professions such as teaching no longer saw themselves as "powerful".

At the moment, women aren't going into specialties that are the more demanding
Professor Carol Black, Royal College of Physicians

She added: "We are feminising medicine. It has been a profession dominated by white males. What are we going to have to do to ensure it retains its influence?

"Years ago, teaching was a male-dominated profession - and look what happened to teaching. I don't think they feel they are a powerful profession any more. Look at nursing, too."

Professor Black added: "In Russia, medicine is an almost entirely female profession.

"They are paid less and they are almost ignored by government. They have lost influence as a body that had competency, skills and a professional ethic.

"They have become just another part of the workforce. It is a case of downgrading professionalism."

Work-life balance

Professor Black added: "What worries me is who is going to be the professor of cardiology in the future? Where are we going to find the leaders of British medicine in 20 years' time?"

If a higher ratio of men or women working within a profession is deemed to be reducing its status then there is a problem with the very way society views the abilities of the sexes
Dr Maureen Baker, Royal College of GPs
She added women were unlikely to take top jobs, such as the dean of a medical school, because of the difficulties combining them with family life.

Professor Black warned many women avoided more "demanding" areas such as cardiology.

She said medicine had to face up to the problem and find ways of helping women doctors balance work and family.

Professor Black told BBC News Online: "I think it's a good thing that women are choosing the medical profession, but the problem is how to make it possible for them to be really effective.

"At the moment, women aren't going into specialties that are the more demanding. So we need to look at how those specialties are practised."

Flexible working

Medicine will retain its influence as long as it treats and cures patients, what the heck has the doctors gender got to do with it?
Elaine, Letchworth, UK

Professor Black warned that, in order for the medical profession's to retain its status, senior doctors needed to serve on government committees and regulatory bodies.

She said such as late night meetings would simply not be possible for women with children, unless they were given extra support with childcare and flexible hours.

"I think most women, although not all, want the opportunity to have a family.

"That may mean they won't perhaps be able to be as flexible as men who don't in a post."

She said she was pleased she was able to highlight the problem because of her position. "It's something that's very difficult for a man to say."

Dr Maureen Baker, honorary secretary of the Royal College of GPs, said it was "perfectly reasonable" to expect the status of any profession to be upheld by its workforce.

"Furthermore, if a higher ratio of men or women working within a profession is deemed to be reducing its status then there is a problem with the very way society views the abilities of the sexes," she said.

'Smaller pool'

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said: "We would not want to see a return to the old quota system of admitting women to medical school - the BMA believes in equality of access and opportunity.

"However we agree with Professor Black that there is an under-representation of women at the most senior levels of medicine and medico-politics and we would like to see this changed."

And John Bangs of the National Union of Teachers said: "I would by no means agree that teaching views itself as a less powerful profession, and I find that a very concerning view."

He added: "If you have an all female profession, whether it be medicine or teaching, it means that the pool from which you're selecting those people is smaller than it should be."

Women doctors 'may quit'
29 May 01  |  Health
Doctors opt for general practice
21 Jul 04  |  Health

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