Burned Out Over Gender by Pat Conrad MD

Yeah I know, we cover this topic once or twice a year, but the gang over at Medical Economics just can’t leave it alone.  In fact the ME editorial board seems increasingly risk averse and clinging to approved scripts.  While the lead editorial assures us that “physicians are fighters, not fleers,” a later spot in the current issue asks, “Why are women leaving medicine?”  The article cites dovetailing studies that show men make up two-thirds of all physicians, even as medical school classes are evenly gender-balanced.

“Health policy experts say that even with more women entering medical school, it is still crucial to address the stresses female physicians face throughout their careers—such as the pay gap, returning to medicine, and burnout—to keep them in the profession.”  To which I respond:  why??  Why exactly do we need a gender balance in medicine?

Kim Templeton, MD, president of the American Medical Women’s Association, says that burnout is more common among female than male physicians.  Templeton says that lack of control over the work environment is a major factor that can contribute to depression, substance abuse, and suicide – just as it does in men.

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Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, MD, executive director of the Indiana University National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, attributes burnout to not feeling financially respected, citing a recent JAMA claim of a $20,000 gender pay gap among (ahem) academic physicians.

How and why that might be so in the squishy liberal halls of academia is mildly amusing, but questionably relevant.

Rohr-Kirchgraber complains that, “Whether you’re a mom or whether you don’t have kids at all, the majority of the household chores are usually done by the woman and that’s on top of everything else, and so burnout increases because we’re trying to do everything.”  She also whines that female doctors also face productivity challenges:   “When the computer doesn’t work properly, when the electronic medical record doesn’t work properly … I’m the one that’s there answering those phone calls—not those administrative bean counters who are telling me see more, do more.”  You mean like your male colleagues?  Rohr-K, etc. moans about women who leave the profession to raise children having significant hurdles in returning to medicine, reacquiring a license, exam fees running $7,000-$20,000, and having to be monitored for competency by another (probably male, hehe) physician.  Of course, they could have just maintained their medical license, or not had children.  Apparently there is a lot of job dissatisfaction pushing women into other careers – just like men – and 25% of them would retroactively pick a different specialty, compared to 18% of their male counterparts (I’m guessing that means more ladies went into primary care, but the article doesn’t explicitly say that).  And naturally, ME attaches that idiotic JAMA finding that he-doctors kill 32,000 more patients than she-doctors every year.

Templeton and Rohr-K, etc. say ways to fight burnout include “Joining a women’s group, finding a mentor, and reaching out to women colleagues.”  ME offers a blog post for more of the same if you want to buy into treating women in medicine differently than men.  I don’t.

Of course ME might spend more ink in trying to aggressively fight the causes of burnout among ALL physicians, instead of dissipating their energies with namby-pamby political correctness.  And the physicians in question could just make the same tough choices in life that other women and men make, instead of confabulating another threat to some vague notions of fairness while the rest of us have to get back to work.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  3 comments for “Burned Out Over Gender by Pat Conrad MD

  1. Steve O'
    May 1, 2017 at 10:02 am

    The details tell the story. In an article published by the FSMB,the medical boards (LINK HERE) in the JOURNAL of MEDICAL REGULATION VOL 101, NO 2 | 8, (© Copyright Federation of State Medical Boards, 2015. All Rights Reserved), Aaron Young, PhD et al. observe the following. I’ll try to put in in a table, but here’s the data if the table messes up.
    37% of licensed MALE physicians are SIXTY YEARS OR OLDER. Those are physicians in practice. The peaks for the distribution of women physicians are equal between <40 years, and 40-49 years of age.
    Medicine for female physicians is more horrible because medicine is now more horrible than it was 20 years ago. The old dogs are on the way out, the new fish are coming in. Only 15% of male physicians are under 40.
    Whenever these sorts of numbers show up, there is a great woo-hoo and acclaim about gender balance. Unfortunately, it usually indicates the decline in prestige and status of a profession, turning it “pink-collar.” I’m sure there’s not a 2:1 prevalence of females to males in MBA jobs with the major Wall Street firms.


    < 40




    Finally, the term “burnout” is associated with failure and replacement of equipment parts. One tries to replace them before they fail. Armies hold divisions in reserve behind the fighting line to replace the active fighters when they tire out. This is not done because of love of one’s comrades in arms. After a while, they become dead or wounded or shot-out, and need to be replaced. It is a fundamentally inhumane term that is ubiquitous throughout the medical staffing industry; scrape up what burns on the bottom on the pan, and place fresh meat in.

    • Steve O'
      May 1, 2017 at 10:05 am

      PS: I don’t know where the Journal of Medical Regulation is published. I assume that it is from Infernal Hades, LLC, a division of CMS.

  2. Thomas Guastavino
    May 1, 2017 at 7:54 am

    You have to feel sorry for women in medicine. Just as they are making great strides the profession is falling apart because of our pathological complacency. Of course, women being convinced that the problem is sexism and not, for example , say a horrible EMR or nebulous quality metrics does not help either.

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