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Female doctors must be better supported through menopause to avoid exodus – MPS

By Reporter - 26th Oct 2022

Female doctors must be well supported through the menopause to reduce the risk of a potential exodus of skilled clinicians from the workforce, according to Medical Protection Society (MPS).

Approximately 18 per cent of Medical Council female registrants are aged between 46-55, when menopause is likely to occur. Many could be impacted by symptoms such as anxiety, depression, poor concentration, brain fog, dizziness and insomnia while caring for patients in challenging and complex environments, according to the society.

MPS said it fears many of these doctors may leave medicine early without better mental wellbeing support, greater awareness from leaders and workplace adjustments which would help these doctors to continue to perform at their best and stay in the workforce for longer.

An MPS survey of female doctors in Ireland who have experienced menopause supports these concerns. The survey found 5 per cent feel supported by their employer or workplace and less than 1 per cent feel supported by their line manager, while 60 per cent feel supported by family and friends.

Over a quarter (27 per cent) feel supported by colleagues but 8 per cent say colleagues have been dismissive of their menopause symptoms. 60 per cent do not know where to seek support for their menopause symptoms at their workplace, and almost one in five (18 per cent) say they have considered early retirement due to menopause symptoms and the impact on their wellbeing.

Dr Gozie Offiah, MPS Council member said: “It is striking that while most doctors report feeling confident in supporting and managing patients who are impacted by menopause symptoms, so many female doctors do not feel well supported at work when they are affected by these symptoms themselves…

“Clearly there are a significant number of female doctors who are suffering in silence and require more support during this phase of their life. Brain fog, forgetfulness, poor concentration and insomnia can make any job difficult, but particularly so in a challenging and complex environment like healthcare.

“Many female doctors tell us they are concerned about their symptoms impacting on their performance, or resulting in medicolegal issues. This causes additional stress.”

Dr Offiah added: “Leaders and managers in the HSE and in private healthcare settings must be trained on menopause and how the symptoms can impact on the wellbeing of some individuals and their teams…. If there is a menopause workplace policy this should also be well communicated.

“Making improvements in this area is not only right and fair, it is also essential. If we do not destigmatise menopause, we may lose many skilled and passionate doctors during a time when the profession can ill-afford it.”

The MPS published findings from a September 2022 survey in their ‘Supporting doctors through the menopause’ policy paper, available on their website.

Key recommendations from the paper are that:

  • All healthcare organisations should introduce flexible working arrangements for individual clinicians struggling with menopause, with policies and procedures to ensure they can seek support–such as making reasonable workplace adjustments, taking breaks or taking time off when needed – without fear of adverse impacts on their career or professional reputation..
  • Managers and senior leaders in the HSE and in private healthcare settings must be trained in the topic of the menopause, including the impact the symptoms can have on working females and their teams. Anyone who is suffering with menopause symptoms needs to be supported by their managers in order to discuss any necessary changes to working arrangements.
  • Occupational health teams should be involved in a proactive way in planning and supporting clinicians going through the menopause in a proactive way to avoid them leaving the profession. This should include support for mental health and wellbeing.
  • Primary care providers should consider staff with menopause expertise when hiring new team members, as this will benefit patients, clinicians and practice staff.
  • Healthcare professionals working in the HSE or in private practice who are struggling with menopause symptoms themselves should seek support and professional advice on potential treatments and lifestyle measures.

MPS also offers support for staff wellbeing and has made their 24/7 confidential counselling service available for those struggling with menopause.

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