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Gender agenda

Second Opinion

Andy Jones

Sixty per cent of GP registrars are now female, and the percentage is the same for undergraduates studying medicine.

Of the 42,000 doctors involved in UK primary care, 40 per cent are women, and this figure is bound to rise.

Recent patient surveys show that female patients like to see a female GP – and so do male patients. So the women are certainly winning.

A well-known wisecrack is that the female brain is the male version with hormones, but in fact there are measurable differences.

Male brains tend on average to be 9 per cent larger – but not more or less intelligent, because female brains have more densely packed cells. One scientist has suggested that female brains are hard-wired for understanding emotions and empathising, and men for understanding and building systems.

There appears to be no statistical difference between mathematical problem solving, vocabulary and reading comprehension between the sexes.

The outlying areas of performance for men appear to be in the stereotyped areas

of aggression, spatial ability and analytics.

Women score better in performance measures of smiling, spelling and communication (and, it is suggested, are better at indirect aggression).

So while male GPs may be using a problem-solving approach through consultations, women GPs will be smiling and addressing the communication issues of their patients.

This oversimplification may in part explain the patient preferences for the gender of their doctor in this world of increasing choice and access.

We will have to wait for the neuroscientists to tell us whether it

would be better for male GPs to go and spatially rotate objects at the PCT or have aggressive exchanges in commissioning meetings, while our female colleagues empathise with their growing fan club

and list sizes.

But the real lesson, in my view, is this. General practice is a diverse and infinitely complex occupation, and different approaches, skills and values – irrespective of whether they can be measured or not – are all appropriate and are all required.

Dr Andy Jones is a GP in Stamford, Lincolnshire

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