The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has raised concerns about the significant gender inequality present in medicine, stating that it is having a “profoundly negative effect” on the health system. The IMO has warned that this inequality is contributing to the Government’s failure to both recruit doctors and retain those already working in Ireland. At the recent conference, ‘Gender Equality in Medicine,’ Dr Madeleine Ni Dhalaigh, a member of the IMO GP Committee, highlighted that females were disproportionately affected in the health system on a range of issues, which was having a knock-on effect on the provision of care.
Dr Ni Dhalaigh stated that “At a time when our health system is chronically understaffed, we need to be doing everything we can to both recruit doctors and retain those already working in the system. We know from an IMO survey that female doctors compare poorly to their male counterparts when it comes to issues including childcare, gender discrimination and gender-based harassment.” She added, “How can we expect female doctors to work in our health system if they are being treated this way? This is having a profoundly negative effect on the health system – and patients are losing out because of it.”
To ease the burden on females, Dr Ni Dhalaigh recommended several steps, including family-friendly work options to improve flexibility, ensuring all doctors are aware of their parental rights, modernising medical training to reflect working realities, promoting female leadership in medicine and cultural change.
According to the IMO survey, female doctors are more likely to reduce their hours to part-time (35.8%) or take unpaid leave (25.5.%) to care for children compared with male doctors (7.2% and 6.8%, respectively). Almost half (46.5%) of female doctors with children say they are mainly or fully responsible for childcare within their family, compared with 6.3% of male doctors. Over half (53.6%) of female doctors report having experienced gender-based harassment, compared with 12.4% of male doctors. Almost half (45.8%) of female doctors say they have experienced relegation to fewer or more mundane tasks compared to colleagues of another gender. The corresponding figure for male doctors is 10.4%.
The IMO survey findings are concerning and highlight the urgent need for change. The Government and health system need to take action to address gender inequality in medicine, including offering family-friendly work options, promoting parental rights, and addressing gender-based harassment. It is essential to ensure that all doctors are treated equally and that they feel valued and supported in their roles. Only then can we hope to recruit and retain the best doctors and provide the highest quality care for patients.