This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

Are too many women coming into general practice?

Two leading GPs consider the claim that an influx of women has unbalanced the workforce

Two leading GPs consider the claim that an influx of women has unbalanced the workforce

Dr Peter Holden

GP in Matlock, Derbyshire, and GPC negotiator

Why ask the archetypical white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ex-public schoolboy - a modern-day minority group in need of positive discrimination if ever there was one - to answer this question? Especially one old enough to be asked by the all-male panel at his medical school interview: 'Where in the boat do you row Holden?'

Already I can see pens being reached for to dash off an 'Indignant of Tunbridge Wells' reply complete with half a dozen references as to why I am wrong in my attitude and should face a firing squad at dawn, or at least be referred to the GMC.

Hyperbole? No. Do I think too many women are coming into general practice? Certainly not.

Six years ago - as part of a long and balanced interview concerning a recently published workforce report - just one, out-of-context, comment of mine hit the headlines.

It was a qualified, affirmative answer I gave to a question about whether there should be positive discrimination in favour of male applicants to medical school.

The firestorm that rained down on me for even daring to discuss the subject is one I'll never forget. The BBC reported my isolated answer, as did the BMJ. Letters appeared in journals, in several medical school publications and even the F word in a blog on contemporary feminism www.thefword.org.uk.

I understand high-flying female achievers better than most. I was brought up among them and one of the final, long discussions I had with my mother - herself one of the early female dental surgeons - was on gender mix and glass ceilings within the learned professions and its consequences for society.

We need as many GPs as we can find, to provide a high-quality service with choice for patients. I am completely gender, race, orientation and colour blind. All I seek in a colleague is professional competence, integrity, honesty, a capacity for hard work and an ability to laugh at oneself. But what I don't want is excuses, special pleadings and personal exceptions to be expected, demanded or enshrined in legislation unless they can be reciprocated among all colleagues in a team equally.

Anything less is exploiting one's colleagues and is unacceptable.

I played my part in securing a more family friendly, work-life balanced, contractually optioned GP contract. Any remaining deficiencies within it discriminating against women GPs are wholly and solely down to Government parsimony and hypocrisy. We have tried repeatedly to have them corrected and I will continue to do so.

The GPC has only just elected its second-ever female negotiator in 95 years, so the key unsolved professional issue is how to get a greater proportion of women doctors involved in medical politics and running the profession.

To answer the question 'Are there too many women coming into general practice?' the answer is an unequivocal No. Come on in - general practice is the place to be and we need your support both clinically and professionally.

Dr Susan Overal

GP in Plymouth and member of the Medical Women's Federation

My greatest medical mentors have been women. Extraordinary, hard-working characters, who often seemed unaware of their considerable achievements - Cecily Saunders, Mary Sheridan, Rosemary Rue and Beryl Corner come immediately to mind, but there are many more.

Women may achieve reward and career fulfilment in a different way to their male counterparts.

They certainly seem to have a tendency to minimise their status, success and authority. Maybe this can result in a distorted view of their stamina, intellect and resourcefulness.

Could this perhaps be why women doctors do not feature so prominently historically and can this in turn lead to myths regarding their ability and affect expectations negatively?

GPs gain a useful insight into the healthcare system through first-hand experiences as patients requiring for example contraception and care during pregnancy and childbirth.

Women have plenty of housekeeping skills and often make for shrewd business partners. Female GPs are excellent communicators, skilled in multitasking and enjoy a flexible working style. These are all welcome assets in family medicine. Women tend to favour a holistic approach to care, which is suited to this specialty.

Are women better at recognising the true subtleties of an individual's illness, allowing greater therapeutic potential for patients and time to deal with both the spiritual as well as the physical part of a person's complaint?

Research is only just beginning to highlight some of the gender differences that exist between us, but may help to maximise and enhance our natural skills and understanding in the future. Women are deeply committed to their careers, but society continues to demand much of us and there is no doubt that life can become a juggling act between work and family.

And what of those who choose not to marry or have children? It's not always helpful to apply the label 'female' indiscriminately.

Equal input from men and women should allow both sexes a more wholesome work-life balance - long overdue in medicine. Maybe the pendulum is

swinging briefly alway from male domination of the profession - but it will centre itself again.

And if there's going to be an excess of women in any medical specialty, surely family medicine is the ideal one.

Are too many women coming into general practice?

Rate this article 

Click to rate

  • 1 star out of 5
  • 2 stars out of 5
  • 3 stars out of 5
  • 4 stars out of 5
  • 5 stars out of 5

0 out of 5 stars

Have your say