‘Medicine should have no place for gender bias or discrimination’

Amanda Lyons

12/11/2019 2:37:45 PM

Two female GPs in leadership roles discuss why recent negative comments on women in medicine are harmful and should be soundly rejected by the profession.

Senior and junior doctors
Doctors from across the profession have been declaring there is no place for gender-based discrimination in medicine.

Dr Hans Peter Dietz, a senior obstetrician and professor at Sydney University who also holds a leadership position at the Australian Salaried Medical Officer’s Federation (ASMOF), believes the medical workforce has been negatively impacted by increasing numbers of women.
The beliefs he outlined in an email to other ASMOF committee members included that women are less resilient and more vulnerable to illness and suicide, while also being more expensive to train because they work fewer hours during their careers.
He also claimed his opinions are backed by research, stating ‘It’s no use denying that, just because someone’s nutty ideology says that must not be true’.
While his comments have sparked outrage across much of the medical profession, Dr Wendy Burton, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Antenatal/Postnatal Care network, told newsGP they will not be surprising to all.
‘It won’t shock some who know this is the sort of thing we’re up against,’ she said.
‘Others will think, “I can’t believe he thought it, I can’t believe he said it out loud”.
‘Still others won’t get it, that this attitude ever existed and still exists today – and that it does so in a fellow who has a leadership role.
‘It’s just really disappointing.’
Dr Krystyna de Lange, Chair of the RACGP’s new National Faculty for GPs in Training, told newsGP that many women in medicine experience adversity throughout their careers.
‘We live in a society where the general perception is that we have achieved gender equality. But this is far from true,’ she said.
‘Most women still experience sexism and harassment on a regular basis. In medicine, this does not discriminate between specialties, public or private sectors or between seniority levels.’

Dr de Lange also observed there is much research to support the existence of gendered inequity in the profession, including from ASMOF itself.
‘ASMOF released the results of a survey showing that gender-based discrimination continues to occur and 55% of female doctors surveyed report having been sexually harassed in the workplace,’ she said.

L–R: Dr Krystyna de Lange believes ASMOF should send a strong message that such attitudes are not acceptable within medicine; Dr Wendy Burton said the presence of female doctors is not a new situation for general practice.

While Dr de Lange acknowledged that numbers of female doctors have risen, she denied the negative effects Dr Dietz claims have resulted from this fact.

‘There has been an increase of women in the medical profession, seen more so in some specialties than others. For example, general practice and obstetrics and gynaecology have higher numbers of female trainees,’ she said.
‘But Dr Dietz’s conclusions that this results in an “increasingly vulnerable” workforce are unfounded and unacceptable.’
Dr Burton, meanwhile, was keen to point out that the presence of female doctors is not a new situation for general practice.
‘Both my parents were country GPs. My mum worked full time alongside my father for the best part of four decades in their community, and she was not the first female GP that community had had,’ she said.
‘So while for some parts of medicine having significant numbers of women in their ranks is new, really, there’s nothing to see here, women working alongside men.’
Dr Burton went on to add that discussions of strength and competence in medicine should never be had in the context of gender – in either direction.
‘The president of RANZCOG [The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists] has called [Dr Dietz’s comments] out and very firmly said there is no place for this kind of gender bias or discrimination, and I agree,’ she said.
‘It is true that at this point in time [women] are the only ones who can carry and birth a baby, and literally breastfeed; beyond that, there’s a whole lot of stuff we do that is not gender-specific.
‘Parenting is not gender-specific. Being in a leadership position in a medical college or a hospital is not a gender-specific role. There are strengths and weaknesses each individual has that have nothing to do with gender.
‘Compassion is not limited to women, nor is kindness and gentleness.
‘Men can be magnificent in those roles as well, just as leadership is not the sole province of those with a Y chromosome.’
Since Dr Dietz’s email comments were leaked to SBS News last month, calls for his sacking from his position at ASMOF have increased across the medical profession, even though his comments are unlikely to meet the union’s threshold for the expulsion of an elected council member.
While Dr Burton is disappointed by Dr Dietz’s opinions, she did not want to comment on whether he should be sacked, as she was not privy to the conversation in which they were made.
‘They [the comments] may been taken out of context, although it’s hard to imagine a context where they would be appropriate,’ she said.
Dr de Lange, however, agrees Dr Dietz should face sanction. She believes the union should send a strong message that such attitudes are no longer acceptable within the profession.
‘ASMOF needs to listen to their members, and the members have been loud and clear in calling for further consequences for Dr Dietz’s behaviour,’ she said.

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Concerened doctor   13/11/2019 7:14:25 AM

I am surprised that there are no comments from any of the doctors on this important issue. May be because of the sensitivity surrounding the gender. Political correctness has completely hijacked the truth and reality. Dr Hans Peter Dietz is a highly respected clinician and his researched observation has to be taken seriously. How is Dr Dietz’s conclusions that increasing numbers of women results in an “increasingly vulnerable” workforce are unfounded and unacceptable. As a practicing country GP, I have experienced this 'vulnerability' first hand. As scientists, we need to keep our emotions and politics aside and critically evaluate Dr Deitz's conclusions. None of us doubt the contributions made to the medical profession by female doctors, but that should not distract us from reality. Cheers!

Dr Kim Thien Chau-Vo   13/11/2019 7:25:10 AM

I am a woman Dr. His statement below are facts that are mostly true:

that women are less resilient and more vulnerable to illness and suicide, while also being more expensive to train because they work fewer hours during their careers.

I think we women feel offended because we think he says it with discrimination/prejudice or malice. That is how we interpret his intention.
Women do take more time off, we definitely work fewer hours in our career and there is no doubt that our suicide rate is higher.
I think his intention is to alert us to the vulnerability of the future medical work force with the coming changes as we are definitely training more female doctors then male doctors. In most medical schools now, the ratio of female:make students is around 60:40. Let not be too quick to condemn. It is alright to disagree with his statement, but to use judgemental and condemning language and call for his resignation, we may be responsible for another colleague's suffering.

Dr Emma Coldwell   13/11/2019 9:35:27 AM

To 'Concerned doctor' - you really need to provide some evidence that Dr. Dietz's "researched opinion" should be taken seriously.

To Dr Kim - I am sorry to hear about your internalised misogyny. You, too, need to provide some evidence that female doctors are less resilient and more susceptible to illness and suicide. Women don't take more time off or work fewer hours in their career - mothers do. Our system is stacked against mothers - women who are expected to work (but not so much they can't be a good mum) and earn 87c for every $1 a man earns. Women who's careers stall and superannuation stagnates while they are at home with the kids. Did you know that divorced women are amongst the highest risk group for homelessness? Instead of being outraged against the system that perpetuates this inequality, you agree with the mouth attached to the foot that's standing on your neck, and you worry about his potential "suffering". SMH.

Another concerned doctor   13/11/2019 3:02:43 PM

I too am a "concerned Doctor" who happens to be female and I have to agree with the above "concerned Doctor". I believe it is vitally important to recognise that women and men are different - but that does not make one any better or worse than the other. We both have roles to play in parenting (but different roles) and we both have roles to play in medicine. By very nature of our female-ness, it is more likely that the mum will take time off to be pregnant and care for children (in any profession) - and this is a good thing. Until we can accept, as women, that the role we play in parenting is as important (if not more important) as the role we play in our profession, we will continue to feel that we are hard done by when it comes to comparing finances, or Superannuation or our career (have you noticed all these things have to do with money??).

Dr Emma Coldwell   13/11/2019 7:40:59 PM

Then, Another Concerned Doctor, I am also sorry for your internalised misogyny.
Women are penalised in our society for being mothers. And yes, it's about money - just like homelessness is about money. It's all fine if you, your husband and your 2.3 children all live happily ever after. But what about all the women who are left with nothing at 40-something when their marriage breaks down and they have no super, no nest-egg and no career to return to, even if they could find a job that they can work around school hours?
It is not women who need to accept the value of their contribution to society through motherhood - it's society. 'Women's work' jobs continue to be undervalued and underpaid, while women continue to be penalised for, rather than rewarded for, their contribution to society in the form of bearing and raising children.
That you defend the very system that smothers you and every other woman is very sad.

u44   13/11/2019 9:38:00 PM

The impact on income, future earnings and superannuation is a choice all parents make. Most couples will discuss these issues before deciding to have children. Consequently, it may be in the best interest of the mum to go back to work early and dad to stay at home to look after the kids. They are a partnership. This is common among female doctors who often have more earning potential than their partners. For most parents of course, its mum whose potential earnings are impacted more by parenthood. The responsibility of rectifying this disparity is not the "patriarchal system" its THEIR PARTNER. My wife is at home currently and has just returned to part-time work. She is also a doctor and her specialist training has been slower due to having 3 kids. My current income is higher but we are a partnership. I am responsible to provide for my family whilst my wife can't work. There is no gender pay gap. I cover the gap. Thats my responsibility.

Dr Peter James Strickland   14/11/2019 11:59:34 AM

The truth really hurts, and Dr Dietz is right. Just look at how many female GPs are full-time, and getting the experience of success and failure. In over 40 years of practice female GPs do not do orthopaedics and workers compensation (for instance) to nearly the same degree as their male counterparts, and spend large amounts of time away from medical practice (and thus lose expertise). All professional personnel need to gain experience through actually working hard and long on occasions. As an example, doing my residency over 40 years ago I was constantly called upon to support my female colleagues who would go to tears with long hours of work. There are now too many part-time female GPs, and the standards of diagnosis and treatment in general practice have dropped. Passing exams is different to practical work application. Female and male GPs can all be effective, but definitely females work less, and take much longer to gain experience, and as Dr Dietz indicates.

Dr Margaret Diana Khyentse   23/11/2019 12:13:20 AM

Discussion about gender, money, career and achieving work-life balance while parenting in cosy two-parent families misses the mark. This is about misogyny, which I experienced early. I wanted to be a doctor since age 12 but this was actively discouraged by my old-school (misogynist) surgeon father. In fact, I was told it didn't matter what I did because "some nice man" would look after me. With a new baby and science degree at the age of 20, my dream of medicine was dashed. Four children later, and no nice man in sight, survival was a daily struggle. Circumstances enabled me to start medical school at the age of 56 and graduate at 60. Fortunately I love medicine, because inadequate superannuation and years of of raising 4 children without financial or any other support, means that I will be working well into my 70's. The reality is that women in medicine work hard, as do female teachers, nurses, police and solicitors who are not subjected to public vilification from their colleagues.