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Disparity in Workplace Conditions Between Male and Female Physicians

Leah Kessler

On December 9, 2017, The New York Times published an article titled “The Steeper Obstacles Faced by Women in Medicine,” which examines workplace conditions for female physicians. As the author, Dhruv Khullar, elucidates, gender discrimination not only manifests in hostile remarks, but is embedded in the structural and systemic foundations of the workplace. Moreover, Khullar’s article should compel us to examine and critique working conditions in general: While the status quo advantages men over women, the current workforce, and the conditions we currently espouse, have a long way to go.

Khullar’s article highlights a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine, conducted by Dr.  Constance Guille and his colleagues, who researched gender-based differences in depression among physicians. According to the study, men and women had similar levels of depressive symptoms before starting residency, but after six months on the job, both genders experienced a sharp rise in depression scores: One-third of residents experienced symptoms of depression, and more than ten percent of medical students reported having suicidal thoughts. These results, however, were more pronounced among women.

Khullar cites other studies that show that female surgeons are more than twice as likely to commit suicide compared to the general population.  Moreover, women in the medical field are barred from attaining the successes enjoyed by male doctors; not only do female physicians earn significantly less than their male counterparts, but they are less likely to advance to full scholarship. Currently, only one-sixth of medical school deans and department chairs are women.

Yet the medical field has made significant progress in gender equality: Today, more than one third of practicing physicians and about half of physicians-in-training are women – a huge improvement from 1966, when only seven percent of graduating medical students were women. Although the medical field has become more inclusive over time, the structure and expectations of medical training have changed little since the sixties, when almost all residents were men with few household duties. As a result, women, who continue to carry the bulk of household and child care duties, have more work-family conflicts contributing to their stress levels.

It is not surprising, therefore, that female employment tends to be higher in countries with higher levels of public spending on family benefits. Yet the U.S. spent only 0.69% of its GDP on family benefits public spending in 2013 – less than all other developed countries. Moreover, the issues highlighted in this article – of high stress and difficult working conditions – are not specific to physicians. Almost 47 percent of U.S. workers are women today, and most of them are likely subjected to outdated workplace structures and systems, similar to the medical field.

While the labor force has been shaped for and by the male employee, current work expectations in the U.S. are strenuous for everyone, not just women: More than one in five American workers are exposed to a hostile or threatening social environment at work. In addition, a recent CNN report found that American employees work an average of 34.4 hours a week, longer than their counterparts in the world’s largest economies. Furthermore, nearly four in ten workers report logging more than 50 hours per week on the job.

Fortunately, New York City continues to pass laws granting employees the power to dictate their schedules. The most recent law, signed by the mayor on January 19, 2018, permits employees to request two temporary schedule changes per calendar year for personal events, with little flexibility for employers to reject such changes. This law, and others that advance workers’ rights, are not only important for female workers, who on average experience more work-home conflicts than men, but for all workers struggling to excel at their stressful and time-demanding jobs.

If you believe you are being discriminated against based on your gender or that you are being subjected to a hostile work environment, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.