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Do we need more men in general practice?

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We are witnessing a major decline in the number of male GPs. In the current intake women outnumber men two to one, and many men in their 50s will soon retire.

Men are an endangered species in a primary care environment, where the overwhelming majority of other staff are women too. For some, this might be cause for celebration - the end of male dominance in a branch of medicine. But this feminisation will become an issue in itself, for patients should be able to choose the gender of the doctor they see. But to advocate for men (as a man) is a fraught business, and risks accusations of misogyny and mansplaining.

We need male GPs in the front line to help men help themselves

The current equality agenda seems detached from suburban regional life. It seems more designed for the Americano-sipping-ultra-privileged-Oxbridge-London-elite-urbanisters. Or FTSE 100 board members. But my reality is burnt toast breakfast; kids’ homework; instant coffee; shopping at Lidl; taxiing kids to clubs; hanging out the washing; no clean socks; drinking too much on a Friday night.

A different world where equality arrived long ago, girls do better at school, are more likely to attend university and much more likely to enter the all professional courses. Did you know that currently 80% of newly qualified vets are women? Also in my world, men and women actually care about and respect each other. We are just sisters and brothers trying to make the best of our ordinary lives.

And as a boy from a free-school-dinner comprehensive, the most marginalised and unrepresented group, I find the concept of  ‘male privilege’ a hard circle to square. We seem to have forgotten that class is the great oppressor, not just gender. 

Today, fewer men are applying for medicine. Fewer still are considering GP as a career. It is common to hear negativity expressed towards men, even in medical school - and this goes unchallenged. Men, too, are victims of crude and out-of-date stereotyping - not all men are the same.

And the single greatest health inequality is maleness – men die on average four years earlier than women. (The causes being violent death, suicide, extreme poverty, homelessness, late presentation of cancer.) Despite these facts, there is limited recognition, research, advocacy and care for men’s health. Men are rarely seen as victims and there is a pervading sense that it is our own fault, that we are to blame. Men are marginalised and are reluctant to engage with health services. We need male GPs in the front line to help men help themselves.

But there is a more important and fundamental reason why we need men in general practice. The presence of women in medicine is the greatest advance in the last half-century. Not simply because of the academic contribution, but because women have delivered better working environments for all, made the profession more humane and family friendly. This allows male doctors to be better parents and have a healthier work-life balance. Mixed-gender working environments are simply better, happier and more productive. That’s mixed; not monopolized by one group or another.

Is it time to do the unthinkable and start advocating for men in general practice? 

Dr Des Spence is a GP in Maryhill, Glasgow, and a tutor at the University of Glasgow

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Readers' comments (21)

  • This rings true. As a comprehensive school lad from the far west country I recognise the class divide in medicine. When I was a surgical trainee I remember being asked "where did you school" and not knowing how to answer. I felt embarrassed and excluded. When I look around I don't see many people from my background i.e state school educated white males are a rare breed.

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  • The selection process for GP Training is heavily biased against men. It values the softer skills and also doesn't take into account that even aged 26 men still have a considerable amount of maturation to do to catch up with women. I have been running a GP Training programme for over 20 years and can vouch for the fact that the playing field is much more level by the time they reach 30.

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  • Bias against men would imply equal applicants with subsequent skew in accepted posts - this isn't the case - fewer men apply currently. I don't know of any men waiting to apply who are deterred by the application process, or who have applied and have been disadvantaged by it. I think more men simply are in less of rush to engage in a training programme which, once chosen, they can't easily change their mind - they don't need the security of a training post as early.

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  • Men are cleverer than women….

    They're aware GP as a career is a dead end misery.

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  • Great article.

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  • As with all other careers e.g. Teaching, once women become the majority the pay and terms and conditions deteriorate. I wonder why this is??

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  • Great article. This is probably the greatest cause of the collapse of the medical profession.

    But is too politically difficult to discuss

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  • Des Spence is completely right again. Our practice will have gone from 5 men & 1 woman to 5 women & 1 man in approximately 15 years and, in due course, the male patients will have no choice at all

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  • I was brought up to believe men are generally crap and deserve to be kicked out of the professions, being responsible for all the crap in the world.. Was this a load of codswallop all along?? I've been conned.

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  • An unfortunate side effect of the shift from male to female is that women, by biological necessity, will need to take several lengthy maternity breaks, and often require part time work when raising the children, whilst in the past most of the blokes worked full time right throughout their careers. This has only exacerbated the recruitment crisis.

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