Gender balance in medicine


Madam, – Brian Mooney (HEALTHplus, August 25th) suggests the “establishment” may be supporting the change in admissions to redress the “feminisation” of medicine.

The issue of females in medicine, their career progression and possible obstacles has received considerable attention in other jurisdictions, but perhaps less so in Ireland. This has been the subject of research involving the author, Dr Kate Meghen and Dr Geraldine Boylan in UCC which will shortly be published. We quantitatively document the gender balance in all areas of medicine in Ireland accurate to the end of 2008 and also present qualitative data obtained from interviewing a cohort of female hospital consultants and female clinical academic staff.

Our findings suggest that at some levels, medicine in Ireland is far from feminised! Rather than be discouraged, future potential female applicants are likely to benefit from the insights offered by those who have succeeded in the hospital and academic disciplines and I would suggest there is a lesson for others here too.

We hope that career guidance teachers take some of our findings into the classroom.

There is ample evidence that a significant proportion of attrition in medicine is explained by the inadequate prior information students have in relation to the medical course and career thereafter. Some of the current debate would be more useful and productive if this issue were also discussed and borne in mind by applicants, their advisers and parents.

Among the positive impacts attributed to female participation in medicine are the flexibility introduced into medical training programmes and work practices, which have benefited, and are availed of, by doctors of both genders. The manpower-in-medicine debate is evolving to focus on the boundary between flexibility and continuity of patient care. All future doctors and hence medical school applicants, regardless of gender, need to be aware of this.

Our research suggests some evidence of a “glass ceiling” and “sticky floor” affecting women in medicine in Ireland and there is robust evidence of this phenomenon in academia in the US. Awareness of this hasn’t unduly influenced me, and didn’t deter any females who succeeded, many of whom are the agents of change.

Commitment and resilience are traits we need to select in future doctors. I hope that disappointed applicants, both female and male, reflect on their position honestly and frankly – is this what they really want, what makes them think they are suited to it and are they adequately informed?

Only then, if truly committed, reapply. How many successful applicants engaged in such a process? This is the real debate for many of us in medical education.

– Yours, etc,

Dr SIÚN O’FLYNN, Head of Medical Education, School of Medicine, University College Cork.

Madam, – The HPat test for entry to medical school is the stupidist idea since Caligula the Roman emperor proposed his horse for consul. There is a niche in medicine for all types of skill and personality. Any student with adequate Leaving Cert points should combine with other victims and seek legal redress.
– Yours, etc,

Dr CHARLES DUPONT, Merlyn Road, Dublin 4.

An aptitude test of the type introduced, incidentally, will do nothing to change this far more significant “imbalance” in medical education, one that has screamed out for redress for years.

– Yours, etc,

ULTAN Ó BROIN, South Circular Road, Dublin 8.

Madam, – Dr Mary Henry ignores a fundamental inequality when she claims “the CAO points system was fair and transparent.” (August 27th). In fact, as reported the same day, the Higher Education Authority tells us that “not one student entering university courses in pharmacy or medicine in 2008/2009 came from an unskilled background.” (“Professionals’ children dominate certain courses“). So, it would seem the “system” was “fair” and “transparent” provided you came from the right background only.