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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 August, 2004, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Are there too many women doctors?
A top female doctor has warned the medical profession's influence could be damaged by the number of women choosing to be medics.

Professor Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said that feminising medicine would cause the profession to lose its prestige and 'power'.

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

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."

Women doctors are expected to outnumber men within a decade.

Do you agree with Professor Black about the feminisation of medicine and the loss of prestige? Is medicine as a profession losing its influence?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Women - you cannot have everything
David, London
Here we go again, women wanting high powered, highly paid jobs and..oh yes..all the time off they can get for childcare. Choose want you want! Women - you cannot have everything.
David, London

It sounds like Dr. Black is concerned about her own prestige and power. Is she prepared to retire to make a shift in the direction she desires? I really do think that as a physician, her standards are suspect.
Barbara Bourne, Austin, USA

Something like half of all those qualifying as solicitors are women, but I've not heard anyone try to suggest that the law is a weak profession which shouldn't be taken seriously. If the political parties manage to get the Commons more balanced in terms of gender are you going to say that it will have lost its authority? If that's the case it is clearly time to let us men take over again as at least some of us have a higher opinion of the abilities and due respect for women!
AB, Leeds

Wow! Did Black really mean to say that publicly? Were her comments reported accurately? Her view is so ridiculous that I'm hoping that there's a reasonable explanation for it.
Patrick, Virginia, USA

This is not a problem with women doctors: this is a problem with our society and those who run it
Graham, Coventry
Prof Black is not saying that there should be less women becoming doctors. She is saying that professions dominated by white men have much more influence than those that aren't; more women doctors means less influence for the medical profession. This is not a problem with women doctors: this is a problem with our society and those who run it. Prof Black is saying we should do something about it.
Graham, Coventry

Regrettably Prof. Black is right. Throughout history when every women have "taken over" a profession - from being a secretary to being a teacher and now a doctor - its status has steadily declined as the male power structure reacts to this.
John Kanefsky, Devon, UK

How refreshing for a professional to admit that their service is under threat and to look for action now rather than too late. Many jobs require a sacrifice, medicine is no different. This makes good sense. How typical for the general public to misunderstand the point and take another swipe at another UK overworked and badly paid profession.
James, Leeds

Are there no laws that Professor Black can be prosecuted under? Her comments are disgraceful. When I am on the operating table or in serious pain I really do not care what sex the doctor is. Maybe she is locked in a sexist time warp but she should take a look around and see that her attitudes do not find favour with the majority of us.
Ed, UK

Good riddance to prestige and power
Steve, Edinburgh
The statement only reinforces some of the experiences I've had with the older, male, hospital consultants. They really do think that they are superior to the rest of us. How healthy would this country be if bins weren't emptied and there was no sewage works? I welcome any good doctor or nurse, regardless of sex, that is willing to do their bit in society without needing to join a country club or drive a Bentley. Good riddance to prestige and power.
Steve, Edinburgh

I agree that we must find ways for women to balance family life and work in all professions but, how unfortunate to see a woman make those kinds of comments! Does it occur to anyone that not all females these days are interested in having families and children? And what about balancing the life style of men to allow them to work and spend time with their families as well? This is one twisted perspective to address such important issue.
Andrea, Montreal, Canada

Just shows what a divided and biased society we live in when a woman can criticise women and get away with it, yet if a senior male doctor had made this statement politicians, the media and more women than you could count would be up in arms. But, she's right. Men have always had the 'power' and will fight to keep it. Men are bigger, stronger and in general more assertive than women in this patriarchy, and with rare exceptions always have been. Whether "feminised medicine" is a good thing or not is unclear; why don't we ask the nurses? Personally I'd like the 'power' to be vested with the patient, not some arrogant overpaid consultant who deigns to look at you while he pontificates at your bedside without actually telling you anything of substance or value.
Brian, UK

It is not about how good female doctors are it is about the perception of the profession in society
Paul Reed, US
Most emails have missed the point about Professor's Black's comments. It is not about how good female doctors are it is about the perception of the profession in society. It is an unpalatable though unchallenged fact that the teaching profession has been devalued. We should applaud the fact that she is stimulating a debate that may prevent the same thing happening to the medical profession
Paul Reed, US

In my view the slipping in the status of the clinician is due to the meteoric rise in the income and influence of those working in the financial and banking sector. The scions of English haute bourgeoisie now go to City and Media Jobs. Medical schools filled the gap with clever girls and ambitious children of Asian and African immigrants. Furthermore the doctor's shine in academia was eclipsed by molecular biologists, Bioengineers, and bioinformatics wizards. These revolutionised medicine and made money
Dr Yousef Abdulla, Orpington, UK

How dare Prof. Black be so arrogant and pompous! I gained my medical and postgraduate qualifications from Cambridge and St. Thomas' hospital medical school and I'm proud of my achievements. I'm even more proud that I was able to give compassionate care to patients. She belittles what I did in her remarks. Doctors who care deserve better.
Susan Hilton MD MA FFARCS MFPM, Washington, DC, USA

I agree with Professor Black's statements to some extent. However, I suspect the power of the pharmaceutical industry will ensure the continued high status of the medical profession!
Gillian Skyrme, Houston, USA

Nick from London sums it up very well. Some jobs are more demanding than others and you can't go into a job requiring flexibility and then whine that you can't be flexible. If you're a cardiac surgeon part way through a major operation you have to accept that you can't drop everything and go to collect your child from school because he's fallen over. If you want the freedom to drop the job at a moment's notice try stacking shelves instead.
Karl Peters, UK

Professor Carol Black is only commenting on a common phenomenon, it does seem that when an area becomes 'woman's work' it loses prestige somehow. Perhaps related to female preparedness to put work second to their own home lives.
James St George, London England

Medicine is a demanding occupation and if a physician specialises, he/she will be in their 30's when they are in practise. This is when many female MDs must decide family or career. If they opt for family their career becomes part time, marry a househusband or hire domestics. It is more difficult than male MDs who are usually only focused on their profession. But as a diagnostician and healer they are often every bit as good as the male, and some have more empathy for their patients. So, no there are not too many women doctors, nor are there too many male nurses or technologists.
Loren, Los Angeles USA

Being a woman in a male dominated industry (IT profession), I have to say that if I can get the job done correctly and efficiently, I am respected no less than my male counterparts. Sometimes my gender works positively as many people see me as a novelty and then are pleasantly surprised when the little woman actually knows what she's doing. Other times, though far less often, I am avoided like the plague. I'm sure it's like that in every profession. I'm sure it happens between men as well for other reasons. Women will be respected in their profession if their competency demands it and the profession will remain "powerful".
JP, Seattle, USA

You cannot draw an analogy between medicine and teaching. Yes, the teaching profession has gone downhill, but it's not because there are more women in it. It's because the last 40 years of governments have watered down the curriculum and removed discipline. Feminising medicine is NOT a bad thing - in fact, just the opposite. Men are intrinsically arrogant, and therefore unsuited to the medical profession.
Lloyd Evans, Brighton, UK

Carol Black is right - but why are the men not applying to be doctors? Is it that they are seeking more prestige and much more money for less work in the world of business? We need both to attract the men back at medical student level and make the top easier for women to get to for real equality.
T, London UK

If it makes the medical profession less arrogant than it is right now, then quite frankly that can only be a good thing.
Mark Rotherham, Colchester, UK

We are here for the patients Prof
Anon, Brighton

As a practising female doctor, I think Professor Black should worry about the really important issues in medicine today like improving outcomes for patients. Her comments only serve to remind me of the self-serving nature of some senior people in my profession. We are here for the patients Prof.
Anon, Brighton

One advantage of a woman medic is that she wasn't selected for medical school due to ability at rugby. May have had a daddy at Bart's though. Give me an Asian man any day; they are the best medics.
Vic B, UK

I think most people are missing the point here. Prof Black is not commenting on the competency of female doctors, but on the fact that many, but by no means all, women do choose to put family above their own professional ambitions. She is highlighting the need for flexible training and working hours in all specialties, otherwise the profession will suffer. This is nothing to do with competency. In fact, women often make better doctors than men.
Stuart McPherson, London, UK

As a male who visits an all female practise I can highly recommend women doctors. I do believe that women display a greater empathy and sympathy with patients. Whilst I support feminism in every way it is necessary to also understand natural differences between sexes and I think that this is one of them.
Raymond Rudaizky, London, UK

There are not enough doctors (or indeed nurses) in the UK at the present time. Is gender relevant?
Martin, Downpatrick, N Ireland

I'm glad a male doctor didn't make this statement! What planet is she on? I don't care what my doctor is; male, female, black, white, they could have two heads - just so long as they know what they are doing!
John, UK

Practising physicians are neither male nor female, they are just doctors
Allan, Prince George BC Canada
Practising physicians are neither male nor female, they are just doctors. I'd rather have a doctor who has a perception of less influence and prestige and a higher standard of patient care anytime.
Allan, Prince George BC Canada

What is the problem? With NHS waiting lists as long as they are I don't care if the doctor is male, female, black, white or a highly educated baboon, if they can do the job then the more the merrier.
Robb Hughes, Rotherham, UK

What does working in a "powerful" profession mean? That you have the power of life or death over someone? Or that you are dictated to by the needs of children or the current government scheme to improve grades? Teaching isn't "powerful". Consultants vote for their own bonuses and pay from the NHS, isn't that powerful enough?

If anyone wants to work in a job that demands long hours, they must be prepared to sacrifice their private lives to some extent. Claiming that women want to have children and must be given better childcare provision or more flexible hours is pathetic.
Nick, London, UK

It is a sad reflection on the gross inequalities that still repress women that Prof Black should find it appropriate to make these comments. It is clear that we still have long way to go. Having said that, knocking some of the more arrogant medics off their perches is no bad thing, there is still a tendency amongst older male doctors that they are next to God and the patient should have no opinion or say in the treatment they receive.
Kate Corwyn

We should be cautious about the ratios in the medical care system...its widely accepted by everyone, even women, that due to the amount of work they have to do and their physique, they are less capable of performing under pressure than men! God save us if the health care became a women only system! I personally would travel abroad to get my treatment...
Nichollas, London UK

Value a doctor by their skills and conduct, not by their sex.
Chantelle, Manchester, UK

If anything there are not enough female doctors worldwide
Hazel, UK
If anything there are not enough female doctors worldwide. What we have is an imbalance in the more developed countries. In a lot of the less well developed countries, particularly those with a predominant Muslim culture, women often lose out on medical treatment because their men folk will not allow a male doctor to examine them. Unfortunately, this imbalance does not only apply to medics but the teaching profession also.
Hazel, UK

I have nothing against women doctors but I wish that they would "forget" that they are women, as more often than not they seem to adapt a more "superior" attitude then men and tend to talk to one as if we are all little children
Michael Mciver, Hastings, England

I suppose it is difficult for an outsider to really comment on how the medical profession sees itself. However, I wonder whether the real issue isn't a 'feminised' and 'less powerful' medical profession but the age old problem of a white male dominated society that doesn't value women properly?
Carole, Bristol, UK

Decades of struggle for gender equality at work can be undermined by such absurd statements. The lessening influence of the medical profession has far more to do with widespread mistrust of the Chief Medical Officer due to the botched handling of the MMR debate, the ineptitude of the BMA but most of all the irony of the Government that has endless consultations and focus groups from which it learns absolutely nothing because it simply doesn't listen to the people who really understand the problems that people face.
ML, London, England

In ancient times metal workers were treated as priests in some cultures because they could do what others could not. Since then the process and skills needed have changed, they are now seen as skilled workers. In Victorian times the village school teacher knew more than any of his pupil's parents, today this is often not the case. Perhaps with medicine we should dispense with the mystic and magic of it and break it down into processes and best practice. We could then train more staff and have a better and cheaper service.
Ian, UK

Maybe the Euro MP had a point. Instead of becoming doctors, they should be at home cleaning behind the fridge and getting the dinner on the table.
Kevin Miller, Warrington, Cheshire

I honestly don't know how Prof Carol Black can say this. Teaching may have been devalued, but I think its more to do with the fact that almost anyone can become a teacher if they want to, whereas only a few gifted people have the potential to be a doctor.
Richard, UK

How can a rising number of women in the profession mean it has lost its prestige?
Lianne, Manchester, England
How can a rising number of women in the profession mean it has lost its prestige? Her comments were both sexist and racist. 'It has been a profession dominated by white males. What are we going to have to do to ensure it retains its influence?' Why are only white males a powerful influence? Perhaps the reason that women will outnumber men in this profession is simply that they are better at it? I sincerely hope more women choose medicine as their profession; if only to irritate Ms Black!
Lianne, Manchester, England

Oh come on! What on earth is Carol Black fretting about, having gained the presidency through, I have no doubt, her professional merits. Personally I have no problem with that. It's wonderful that there are so many women doctors. Is Dr Black concerned about her own status, without enough men beneath her? And since when did women reduce the status of nursing? Try telling that to Florence Nightingale!
Brian Cuthbertson, London

There are not too many women doctors - if anything, given the hours they have to work and the difficulty in getting an appointment, there are clearly too few doctors. There are, however, too many people with a problem attitude to women and discrimination should not be tolerated.
Lynn, UK

What a load of old twaddle! If women doctors are joining your profession then so be it, the men are obviously lagging behind or going into jobs which have less hours for better pay. And Professor Black, you made it to presidency of the Royal College of Physicians. Has that lost its prestige and power? 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

It's a bit hypocritical of the female president of the RCP to come out with these statements about feminising medicine. I also hope that her reference to it being a profession previously "dominated by white males" has no other undertones to it (if it's a gender issue, why bring colour into the debate?) At the end of the day, I go to my doctor for health advice. As long as that advice is sound, I wouldn't have any problem with who gave me it. Even the most prejudice must surely value their health above petty, irrational behaviour against fellow humans?
Ken, Scotland

I'm far more interested in the technical competence and bedside manner of doctors than their sex (or age, or ethnicity, or religious background or whatever)
John, England
What a silly question! Medicine had plenty of "prestige" years ago when it was male dominated, but it was also a very arrogant and condescending profession. I'm far more interested in the technical competence and bedside manner of doctors than their sex (or age, or ethnicity, or religious background or whatever).
John, England

What an inane thing to say! Women doctors are a lot more sympathetic to patient's needs, spend a lot more time with paediatric and geriatric patients, and are generally a great deal more competent in specialties like radiology, anaesthetics and general medicine. Medicine is 'losing it's influence' because the British public don't appreciate that their two hour wait in the emergency room would be a two day wait in any third-world hospital.
Martin , Reading, UK

Bluntly, I think it's a load of nonsense. The big problem for the profession is the number of legal cases of professional negligence, this does more damage than anything else. I have no problem being treated or advised by a female so long as she appears to me to be professional.
Terry, Epsom, England

I thought this was meant to be the generation of equality in the workplace? Comments like that suggest that she thinks women should all be housewives, whilst the powerful men are the breadwinners. Surely that's hypocrisy on the part of the female professor???
Liz, Didcot, UK

I don't care whether a doctor is male or female as long as they are qualified and competent to do the job...who cares!
Glenn J, UK

Professor Black is leading with her chin and linking teaching to medicine is a non-sequitur. The profession needs more doctors of any gender and this statement shows that the RCP wants a closed shop despite National health waiting lists. This trend will allow women patients to have more chance to be seen by a woman doctor.
Charles, São Paulo Brazil

I could have sworn medicine was about healing people not pumping egos. I could be wrong though. Thank you Prof Black.
Wairimu, Kenya

Why does this position have the feeling "now that I am here, I would prefer other women not to have the same chance to practice medicine?" The world will always need good physicians, gender not withstanding.
Eileen McNamara, Boston USA




SEE ALSO:
Women docs 'weakening' medicine
02 Aug 04  |  Health
Women doctors 'may quit'
29 May 01  |  Health
Doctors opt for general practice
21 Jul 04  |  Health


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