Is there gender equity in Australian medicine? ‘No’ say female doctors

Paul Hayes

18/11/2019 2:41:37 PM

A group of 35 doctors issued the terse one-word response to a question from a major medical journal.

Male and female doctors
While women have had gender parity in Australian medical schools, they represent only 28% of medical deans and 12.5% of hospital chief executive officers.

‘It’s not up for debate,’ Dr Jill Tomlinson said when examining the question of whether gender equity exists in Australian medicine.
A plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Melbourne, Dr Tomlinson is one of 35 signatories to a succinct response – ‘No’ – to the question posed by the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA). (The one-word response was rejected for not meeting word-limit requirements, but a longer version has since been published.)
‘We need to stop asking the question that perpetuates this gender disparity ... it’s time to fix it,’ Dr Tomlinson said.
Dr Tomlinson and the co-authors of the MJA letter looked at the issue more broadly, including in the context of medical leadership.
‘There is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that gender equity in medicine and medical leadership in Australia has not been achieved,’ they wrote.
‘Women have had gender parity in Australian medical schools for decades; however, they represent only 28% of medical deans and 12.5% of hospital chief executive officers.’
Dr Tomlinson believes people still do not realise the extent of the issue.
‘Some people still believe the old pipeline theory – that we just have to wait and women will come through in equal numbers,’ Dr Tomlinson said. ‘[But] there’s still bias about what women should do … that women should be child-raising and aren’t biologically suited to traditionally male roles, leadership selection bias.’
The letter comes in the wake of the recent exposure of internal emails from Dr Hans Peter Dietz, a senior obstetrician and professor at Sydney University who sits on the leadership committee of the Australian Salaried Medical Officer’s Federation (ASMOF).
Dr Dietz told colleagues the ‘increasingly female’ medical workforce has made it ‘increasingly vulnerable’ to problems such as inability to cope with adversity and suicide.
The MJA letter struck a definite chord among Australia’s female doctors.

The letter also highlights the fact gender inequity is especially pronounced for women from diverse backgrounds.
‘These disparities are even greater for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour and women with disabilities,’ the letter states.
Dr Anita Goh, a clinical neuropsychologist and researcher, and a co-author of the MJA letter, has found this to be true.
‘There’s no one in leadership who looks like me,’ she said. ‘If I can’t identify a role model to aspire to, it’s very difficult to dream big. And we can’t claim to be addressing the healthcare needs of our diverse population without diversity in leadership.’

Login below to join the conversation.

female doctors gender inequity MJA


Login to comment

Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balakrishnan   21/11/2019 2:02:39 AM

Time to stop with the politics of gender identity and to focus on quality , performance and outcomes.