Family-friendly medicine: A long way to go

Catherine Reilly | 16 Mar 2017 | 0 Comment(s)

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Some 82 per cent of female doctor respondents in Ireland have answered ‘yes’ when asked ‘have you ever been concerned about the impact that having children may have on your career in medicine?’

The corresponding figure for male doctor respondents was 39 per cent, according to data from the IMO. Moreover, some 84 per cent of respondent female doctors stated that existing workplace supports do not adequately provide an opportunity to balance medical workload with their family commitments.

The data was released on 8 March, International Women’s Day. The IMO survey on Gender Issues in Irish Medicine, which was open to all doctors, closed in November. Results are currently being analysed, with full data due to be published at the mid-year point.

A utopia where the dual demands of parenthood and a challenging career coexist seamlessly may never be discovered. But in Ireland, we should be doing a whole lot better.

As far back as 2003, the National Task Force on Medical Staffing’s Flexible Training Strategy stated that flexible training and job-sharing should be “legitimate and accessible” options for all doctors.

Some 13 years later, an inadequate number of flexible training posts was highlighted in the Strategic Review of Medical Training and Career Structure — Fourth Progress Report, January-July 2016.

The HSE National Supernumerary Flexible Training Scheme provides for 16 whole-time equivalent places, meaning that the number of trainees engaged in the scheme at any given time would be a maximum of 32. While noting that HSE National Doctors Training and Planning secured an increase for 2016, it is a risible figure in the broader context. It is also disquieting that some trainees feel they need to ‘make a case’.

The realities of modern life may force change, as will the so-called feminisation of medicine (UCD Medicine recently tweeted that its medicine intern programme currently comprises 66 per cent female doctors). Nevertheless, the issue of flexible working is not just applicable to women — and men — who become parents.

Increasingly, doctors of both genders are seeking more flexible options and considering part-time clinical practice for a whole host of reasons.

And while general practice was once considered the last bastion of family-friendly careers in medicine, this no longer holds true.

The recent submission from the NAGP to the Primary Care Division GP Out of Hours Review Group underlined that the contractual obligation of 24-hour care will not be viable for much longer, one reason being that newly-qualified Irish GPs are “simply not willing” to work in a system “with such an onerous work commitment”.

It is a question of how effectively unions can push against the inertia: Their members will be watching.

Meanwhile, another finding from the IMO survey clearly demands immediate action from the Department of Health, HSE HR, Medical Council and training/membership bodies: 11 per cent of respondent female doctors and 5 per cent of respondent male doctors reported being victims of sexual harassment at work during the previous two years.

Taken with findings from the Medical Council that around a third of trainees have experienced bullying/harassment, that adds up to a very significant problem simmering below the surface in Irish healthcare.

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