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Female doctors to become majority in UK

Research from the Royal College of Physicians shows that by 2017, the majority of doctors in the UK will be women

Research from the Royal College of Physicians shows that by 2017, the majority of doctors in the UK will be women.

The study, Women and medicine: the future, was commissioned following concern that the increasing numbers of women entering medicine at the undergraduate level would have an impact on the future structure of the profession.

Key findings from the research point to a far greater preference for part-time and flexible working among women doctors compared to men, and an overall preference among female doctors to work in specialist fields that offer more 'plannable' working hours and a higher level of patient interaction.

Women have made up the majority of medical school applicants in the UK since the early 1990s – while white males make up 40 per cent of all school leavers, in 2007 they only accounted for 25 per cent of applicants to medical school. Based on current trends, the majority of National Health Service (NHS) general practitioners (GPs) are likely to be women by 2013, and the women will make up the majority of all NHS doctors at some stage after 2017. An expected fall in the number of medical graduates from outside the EU currently working in the NHS, will mean these levels are met more quickly.

Ethnic minority acceptances into medical school have risen steadily making up a quarter of the total in 2007. The balance between men and women is roughly equal.

Accounting for 40 per cent of all doctors, women make up 42 per cent of GPs and 28 per cent of consultants. However, only 8.4 per cent of consultant surgeons in the UK are women. Women currently occupy very few top-level or strategic roles, such as medical directors on NHS Trust boards or deans of medical schools.

In the UK, medicine is divided into around 60 specialities, each of which has its own demands and requires individuals with different abilities. Women are now opting to specialise in a wider range of areas. For example, in 2007,they comprised over 50 per cent of acceptances for special training in emergency medicine – more than double the current proportion of women in this field. However, women continue to opt into specialities such as public health medicine and general practice where a significant female presence has been the trend for some time.

These finding create challenges for policy makers who must ensure the highest quality of care is preserved with an increasingly part-time workforce. The proportion of women in the health service needs to be incorporated effectively, economically and fairly for the benefit of patients.

Professor Jane Dacre, chair of the working group, said: "The combination of these changes in the medical workforce will need to be examined to ensure the continued delivery of high quality care, and the best use of the considerable talent available in today's medical profession."

The report contains five key recommendations for policymakers to ensure the future of the health service is not compromised:

1. Examine requirements for workforce design
2. Investigate economic implications of changing workforce patterns
3. Address critical information gaps
4. Strengthen workforce planning and modelling
5. Enhance career guidance and feedback


In a supporting statement to the report, Mr John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons said: "All these factors point to a new agenda: the need to understand the organisational and economic implications of the increasing share of women in the profession; how this trend will interact with technological and clinical innovations; and how these will be affected by the implementation of the European Working Time Directive." 

3rd June 2009

From: Healthcare

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