Women Run the World in Medicine
The number of women in medicine is astounding. Around the world, women make up 70% of the global healthcare workforce. In developing countries, more than 50% of women held jobs with healthcare titles, according to the OECD, an international nonprofit that works to improve the quality of life of humans around the globe.
While there are no signs pointing toward anything except job security for those who choose professions in healthcare, there are various challenges and barriers women in medicine face and overcome in order to succeed when compared to their male counterparts.
The OECD said only four countries neared gender parity in healthcare, or an equal population of women and men. They were Sweden, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Additionally, 13 countries exceeded general parity for doctors, which included Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.
Meanwhile, the United States, Europe, and the Western Pacific had the highest proportion of women in medicine-related-fields, including nurses. In Japan, women make up 1 of 5 doctors. For nurses and midwives, women represent a global majority.
Women Dominate the U.S. Healthcare Industry
Women hold over 75% of health care jobs in the United States, the OECD said. The percentage is attributed to the fact that women, especially those of color, are more likely to take on caregiving roles as a healthcare career choice. Since 2019, more women are entering medical school than men. In that year, women accounted for over 50% of medical school applications, matriculants, and enrolled students. In 2018, they also made up nearly 50% of medical school graduates. Of medical school faculty, women comprised just over 42% of them in 2019.
In Canada, women dominate the healthcare field by making up about 80% of post-secondary graduates. For over 40 years, women continue to hold a greater share of medical degrees than men. In 2018, women earned about 55% of medical degrees, an increase of 12%. This trend applies for nursing roles, where women comprise over 90% of the nurse workforce. By 2030, this growth is expected to increase by at least 33%, the OECD said.
When compared to Europe, the gender gap between women and men in medicine widely varies by country. For example, at face value, the European Union indicates a near equal balance of men and women employed in healthcare. However, women remain the driving force in Latvia and Estonia. Meanwhile, men outnumber women in medicine in Luxembourg and Cyprus.
Healthcare Career Higher Education Requirements
Healthcare Job Title
Required Years of Higher Education
Medical massage therapist
Emergency medicine paramedic
Cardiovascular invasive specialist
Central service technician
Health information manager
Medical laboratory scientist
Nuclear medicine technologist
Positron emission tomography technologist
Surgical first assistant
Diagnostic medical sonographer
Child life specialist
Medical social worker
Molecular genetics technologist
Medical speech-language pathologist
Less than 1 year
Less than 1 year
Women in Medicine by Position
Health Care Field
# of Women Employed
% of Women Employed
Child Day Care Services
Community Food and Housing, and Emergency Services
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals, and Specialty Hospitals*
Health Care and Social Assistance
Home Health Care Services
Individual and Family Services
Non-Hospital Health Services
Office of Chiropractors
Office of Dentists
Office of Optometrists
Office of Other Health Practitioners
Office of Physicians
Other Health Care Services
Outpatient Care Centers
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals
Residential Care Facilities**
Skilled Nursing Care Facilities
Vocational Rehabilitation Services
U.S. Average Salary for Healthcare Jobs
Domestic Violence Advocate
Obstetrics and Gynecology Physician
Women’s Health Manager
Labor and Delivery Nurse
Primary Care Physician
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Family Medicine Physician
Internal Medicine Physician
Urgent Care Physician
How to Find Mentorship and Support for Women in Medicine
Some medical schools and employers will host a Women in Medicine (WIM) mentoring night. The gathering serves as a function for women to find a mentor in their specific field, according to MDLinx writer Jules Murtha. In some situations, female mentors will amplify the voice of their female mentees to ensure their voices are heard. There also are forums specifically for women in medicine to discuss topics that directly affect them. For Black people looking for
mentors of color, the Association of Black Women Physicians provides programs to help counteract obstacles Black women face in growing their medical careers.
Here are some resources on finding mentorship in healthcare:
Why Do Some Women Leave Medicine Early?
In 2019, research showed nearly 40% of women in medicine either went part-time with their careers or left medicine entirely within six years of completing their residencies, according to an article from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Here is a look into why this happens and what the healthcare industry is doing to prevent it. Generally, reports point to sex-based harassment, pay gap, and gender bias as the primary limiting factors for women in medicine. However, a work-family conflict early in a woman physician’s career may play a deciding-factor in change.
Full-time vs. Part-time
Of total physicians, 22.6% of female physicians were not working full-time compared to 3.6% of men in similar roles, according to a 2018 survey of 700,000 physicians conducted by Merrit Hawkins, a Dallas, Texas-based healthcare research firm.
Additionally, data indicates household tasks have a greater impact on women in healthcare than men. On average, women do 8.5 hours more of housework than men. Married men, who have children, worked seven hours longer and spent 12 hours less per week on parenting or other domestic responsibilities than women.
For female physicians with children, 1 in 3 have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to pregnancy or breastfeeding. In medicine, maternity leave policies can be lacking. The recommended leave is 12 weeks for both parents, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, the average length of parental leave was 8.6 weeks, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Time Off/Leave of Absence
Lastly, it may be difficult for women to reenter the medical field after changing to part-time hours or leaving the career for an extended period of time. Taking time off to raise children typically comes at a cost. Even though not practicing, physicians who take a break are recommended to make sure they keep their license current. And while it may vary by state law, all physicians who return to work after 24 months are required to demonstrate competency in their skills.
This can be followed with a monitoring period to ensure you still deliver the highest quality of care. In some cases, you may have to repeat a portion of your residency training.
Medical institutions are currently exploring ways to improve their systems for parental leave, so they can provide support to women without constructing tall barriers for reentry. At Harvard Medical School, they offer monetary compensation to eligible physicians, which can be used for childcare, so women can spend time on research and professional development.
How to Balance a Career in Medicine and Family
Bonnie Davis, a family practice physician, said it’s important to leave work at work, according to an article in CompHealth. She added that communication is absolutely essential to maintaining a healthy relationship between her husband and children. She continued that leaving paperwork and other work distractions at the office make it easier to focus on family.
Lexi Mitchell-Sanchez, a physician and emergency on-call nurse, decided to work a 8-5 schedule as part of her contract to allow her to spend time with her family. She said she planned ahead of time to prioritize a balance between work and home.
For Tamara Howard, an emergency medicine physician, she was able to find balance in homeschooling her child while practicing medicine. This allowed her the flexibility to work in healthcare and also provide for her child in situations where she otherwise could not.
Balancing a career in medicine and family can also mean letting go of guilt. Holly Williams, a doctor, said she tracks important events and activities on a calendar, so she and her family can prioritize important things when she’s less busy at work.
Lastly, determine whether a locum doctor, also known as locum tenen, can fulfill your duties in times you need to spend more hours with family. A locum doctor will act in your place until your return. This is especially helpful for extended absences, such as maternity leave, caring for an elderly family member, and other situations.
Here are some resources on balancing a career in healthcare and family:
Statistically Women in Medicine Are More Likely to Get Sick
Since women comprise a majority of the international health care workforce, they face a disproportionate risk of contracting illnesses including COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
In April 2020, the CDC reported that 73% of health care professionals who tested positive for COVID-19 were women. A study of health care professionals in China reported that women had increased anxiety, stress, and depression during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Here are some resources on how to stay healthy in the medical and healthcare field:
Other Challenges in the Medical Field
According to a study published in the Future Healthcare Journal, women reported significant challenges in various parts of their medicine careers. This was made more difficult by limited flexible working options. Additionally, few of the women felt they had received adequate support, professional advice, and/or mentoring during their career progression.
The study, authored by Stephanie Moore, Jenna Fielding, and Claire MacDermott, recommended the following to reduce challenges and other obstacles:
• More mentoring and positive role models
• Responsiveness and flexibility for employment
• More educational opportunities
Own-Occupation Disability Insurance
Healthcare professionals can consider own-occupation disability insurance to provide a source
of income in the event they are not physically able to perform the duties of their everyday jobs. If a professional in medicine or healthcare was to get into a serious car accident and not be able to work for an extended period of time, own-occupation disability insurance can provide the needed income to cover expenses during an extended recovery.
When's the best time to buy disability insurance?
The best time to buy disability insurance is when a person is young and healthy. The price
increases every year a person waits to buy it and any pre-existing medical conditions can make
obtaining disability insurance more challenging. It is better sooner than later.
What about Group Insurance?
An alternative to individual disability insurance is employer provided group disability insurance.
While Group Insurance offers a great first layer of income protection, it has several limitations.
1. Most group plans state that they will provide 60% of a person’s income during a
disability, but the actual payout is typically much lower due to offsets and taxes. This
could leave a person in a situation where they are not able to cover all of their expenses.
2. Group Insurance is connected to a person’s employer. If they were to change jobs, they
will lose their coverage.
3. The definition of disability and other policy provisions are always inferior to a more
comprehensive individual disability plan. There are many situations where an individual
policy would pay a benefit, where a group disability policy would not.
Because of these limitations, it’s fairly common for a person with group disability insurance to
supplement their policy with an individual disability policy to fill in the gaps.
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