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Number of doctors withdrawing from register highlights need for additional support

By Paul Mulholland - 17th Mar 2024

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Significantly, the Medical Council decided to publish its Medical Workforce Intelligence Report 2022 on International Women’s Day, which took place on Friday 8 March.

The data in the report shows, for instance, the growing number of female doctors registering with the Medical Council for the first time.

Over half (52.6 per cent) of doctors registering for the first time in 2022 were male and 47.4 per cent were female. However, the ratio of females to males was greater in the youngest cohort of doctors aged 24 and below (45 per cent male vs 55 per cent female).

President of the Medical Council Dr Suzanne Crowe said: “As the world collectively celebrates International Women’s Day, I’m glad to see a rising number of women in medicine in Ireland, particularly those aged 24 and under.”

Dr Crowe pointed out in 1994 women comprised just 30 per cent of doctors on the medical register. “Now, 30 years later, we are nearly at a 50/50 split male to female, with the numbers of female doctors in the younger age cohorts outpacing male doctors.

“Over the years, there has been a significant increase in the representation of women within the medical profession, reflecting a positive shift towards greater gender diversity and inclusivity in healthcare.”

This year’s International Women’s Day theme was #InspireInclusion. This encouraged recognition of the unique perspectives and contributions of women to all aspects of society.

“One of the key elements of Inspire Inclusion is promoting diversity in leadership and decision-making positions,” the Medical Council President stated. “Women, especially those belonging to under-represented groups, continue to face barriers when seeking leadership roles.”

Dr Crowe said it was important to reflect on the contributions of the women who advocate for patients and vulnerable people in Ireland.

“We celebrate their dedication, compassion, and commitment to making a positive difference in the lives of others. Women can bring a unique understanding of women’s health issues, paving the way for change in medicine, and helping other patients to feel safe and heard.”

The report offered a number of other important insights into the medical workforce in Ireland and issues of concern. For example, in 2022, 1,341 doctors, of whom 593 were female, voluntarily withdrew their registration with the Medical Council.

Among those who completed a related survey, 45.9 per cent offered detailed explanations on the reasons for their withdrawal.

A number of work-related issues were cited, such as limited career progression and training opportunities and poor working conditions. Other factors mentioned included personal or family reasons and plans to practise abroad.

“Doctors who withdrew from the register in 2022 often cited personal and wellbeing-related reasons for deciding not to retain their registration,” according to Dr Crowe.

“Balancing caring duties at home with onerous rosters and poor access to childcare is a major issue for doctors, especially those in training. Supports are available to doctors and we must come together to support our colleagues who may be struggling.”

Dr Crowe pointed out that, like everyone else, doctors can fall ill or experience poor mental health.

In response to the report, the IMO said the number of doctors who withdrew from the register was concerning.

“This report backs up what the IMO has been saying for many years, namely, that our long working hours, poor work/life balance, and stressful working conditions are driving doctors away from Ireland and to countries who support them and properly value their contribution,” according to Chair of the Organisation’s consultant committee, Prof Matthew Sadlier.

He said that more needs to be done, not only to recruit additional doctors, but to improve the working environment so that they are enabled to deliver care in a safe way.

Prof Sadlier is correct – it is crucial that the issues raised in the report are addressed to support and retain the medical workforce in Ireland.

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