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3 Keys to Better Recruitment and Retention of Female Physicians

Analysis  |  By Debra Shute  
   March 09, 2017

Despite reporting high career satisfaction rates, female cardiologists experience discrimination nearly three times as often as men. Here's what to do about it.

Much has changed in medicine throughout the past 20 years, not the least of which is the growing prevalence of female physicians, who now make up about half of medical students.

What hasn't improved as much is women physicians' representation in the field of cardiology—at around 13%—while heart disease has remained the nation's leading cause of death for both genders.

This disparity makes it difficult for female heart patients to find a cardiologist of the same gender, which many patients prefer, says Martha Gulati, MD, chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix and Physician Executive Director for the Banner – University Medicine Cardiovascular Institute.

She recently co-authored a paper for the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, examining how the role of the cardiologist has changed over the past two decades.

Why Female Physicians Achieve Better Outcomes Than Males

"Personally, I think cardiology is a great career for men and women," she says.

In fact, 90% of male cardiologists and 88% of female cardiologists surveyed in 2015 reported that they were "moderately or very satisfied" with their careers, versus 92% and 80%, respectively, in 1996.

Despite High Overall Job Satisfaction, Gender Imbalances Persist
While the proportion of men reporting any type of discrimination has remained close to 22% over the past two decades, the rate of women experiencing discrimination is still nearly triple, at 65%. It has decreased, however, from 71% in 1996.

The types of discrimination reported by female cardiologists ranged from inappropriate sexual comments to what the researchers termed "parenting discrimination," Gulati says.

This might occur if a parent "were leaving work or couldn't make a meeting, which would result in them not being included in certain things," she says.

"Comments might be made such as, 'OK, go home, Mom.' And that is not the environment we want to create when trying to get more women into our field."

Gulati offers several ways healthcare leaders can attract and retain more female physicians to any specialty:

1. Offer Family-friendly Flexibility to All
Increasingly, work-life balance matters as much to male physicians as it does to females. Instead of scheduling meetings during times when parents need to drop off or pick up their children, Gulati suggests mid-day meetings when everyone is likely to be available.

"Or take a poll and ask what will work best," she says. "Or make it possible for them to call in. Just because things were done a certain way 20 or 30 years ago doesn't mean they need to be done that way now."

2. Balance Leadership
"Don't assume women don't want leadership roles even if they are in a time when they're having children," Gulati says. "There are many women who are ready to step up to the plate."

Moreover, high-ranking females can help squelch discrimination. "Certainly when I was a fellow, I would never stand up and say that [discrimination] wasn't right; but now as an attending, I feel I have to be the voice to call people out and say, 'We don't talk like that here,'" she says.

3. Provide Equal Pay for Equal Work
"We know nationwide that women are significantly underpaid compared to their male colleagues, even after controlling for everything you can imagine," Gulati says.

"I hear over and over again from women of all ages that they'll find out that they're underpaid, and it makes them feel undervalued. When you start feeling undervalued, you don't enjoy your job anymore or you start looking elsewhere," she says.

"It costs a lot to recruit a new person. So make sure [women] know they are being rewarded and that their work is valued."

MACRA implementation is underway. What is the best payment model for your organization? How can physician organizations successfully execute important checklist items? Learn how DuPage Medical group overcame these and other challenges by watching this live HealthLeaders Media webcast, Specific Strategies to Embrace MACRA Without Missing a Beat, on March 20.

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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