Let us travel across time to the Stone Age where mankind has just learnt the use of fire and is about to invent the wheel. People lived in groups or clans usually inside natural formations like caves, since they haven’t yet learnt how to construct homes out of wood and stones. The men of the “household” go out for hunting during the day time and the women stay in tending to the young ones and looking after the ill. Now zoom back in to the 21st century, where bread-earner is still used to refer to the men of the family. Although many will be infuriated by this, it is in fact the blatant truth. Women are still expected to be the caregiver in a family; their role is mostly reduced to cooking, cleaning, nursing and general management of the household. Most successful women of our country do not shrug off the roles of a mother, wife, cook and home manager before standing on the pedestals for accepting international accolades.
Just in case you think I am being biased, riddle me this:
A father brings in his son into the hospital after a serious road accident; the surgeon takes one look at the boy and says, “I can’t operate on this boy. This is my son.”
Now how is that possible? Honestly, how many of you could imagine the surgeon to be a woman and the boy’s son? Funny thing, isn’t it? We have had a woman prime minister in 1966 but it is difficult for us to imagine a female surgeon. In reality, this is not just the fault of growing up in a patriarchal society. Actually recent research puts forth an astounding fact. About 43% of the women who pass out of med schools go on to become general practitioners, however a mere 25% of them become specialists. There are a number of reasons which drive these numbers.
- Firstly, most women have to juggle multiple responsibilities of home and workplace to maintain the balance of their regular life. Hence specialization is a huge challenge rather than just an accomplishment for most women.
- Secondly, in a country run by testosterone it is not very strange to find more than just a few sexist male doctors who willingly or unwillingly demotivate the women in their workplace. Because accept it or not, when we walk into an important meeting and see a pretty, well dresses woman we expect her to be some corporate honcho’s secretary.
So what are we trying to say?
No, this is not another feminist manifesto. This is simply an approach to answer who is happier in their workplace, men or women.
So let us go back to cold hard facts. According to a very recent study conducted by the University of Montreal the quality of patient care provided by female doctors is higher than male doctors. However it is also true that over the ages people have become used to seeing men in white coats with stethoscopes hanging around the necks. So, unless someone has to consult an OB/GYN, most patients, including women prefer to consult male doctors. The study conducted by the researchers at University of Montreal demonstrated that when a group of diabetic patients were treated by a group of doctors (equal male and female ratio, with comparable qualification and experience) the patients were better tended to by the female experts. In fact the statistics of the study show that 3 out of 4 female specialists recommended regular tests for the patients when required where as only 71% of their counterparts required their patients to do the same.
The question of efficiency comes when we see the standard of pay for both the sexes in our country. India is a country which is trying really hard to abolish any kind of discrimination against women in workplaces including hospitals, nursing homes and clinics. However the disparity in treatment still persists in payments. Male doctors sometimes end up making a whopping 88% more as compared to their female counterparts in a year. This is mostly due to faulty healthcare infrastructure which does not reinforce equal payment rights for both men and women.
As a result, although women are just as good medical professionals as men, they remain grossly unsatisfied with their jobs. They feel underappreciated, stressed and unpaid. Men on the other hand are more satisfied with their jobs and enjoy better pay scales on a gross level all over the country. This is more ironic because in the current academic year, more number of female students (51%) has enrolled in medical colleges and other institutions than male students. however due to multiple social, economic and cultural factors most of these women are likely to drop out, become general physicians only and only a handful of them will become surgeons, ENTs, pediatricians, oncologists, urologists and orthopedic surgeons. India has only 17% female allopathic doctors and only 6% of doctors in rural areas are women.
Even the stronger sex is not immune to the pangs of the profession:
So far, the scale seems to be tipping towards women, but that is only because we have not started looking at the factors which drive the career, practice and emotional stress in male doctors of our country. Just like their female counterparts they are expected to fulfill a lot more responsibilities and roles than a 24 hour day can permit and needless to say that does not have a positive impact on their mental and physical statuses.
- Most doctors in India have a history of good academic performances, competitive achievements and ambitious families. Hence they end up choosing a profession they are expected to follow rather than a profession they are truly passionate about. Most brilliant minds of the country are encouraged to become doctors, engineers and lawyers in our country, even today. This has increased the rate of depression and burn outs among the leading physicians across the nation. Let us delve a little deeper into the main causes of the sadness that pains the healers across India.
- Many doctors in India continue with their profession simply because they believe that is what their families expect from them. There is a question of social status which is involved intricately with the profession and most doctors are lured to the profession at a young age by the glitz and novelty of the job.
- Many a times there are intrinsic factors like the struggle to meet certain levels of expectation from people, family and patients which drives them to anxiety, self criticism and paranoia. To cope with this stress many doctors resort to alcohol and smoking further stressing out their physical and mental conditions.
- A general physician can see from 25 to 40 patients per day in India which simply does not help with the surmounting psychological stress of the situation. Their profession makes them first hand witnesses to human suffering which drains them emotionally and physically. Such that they are driven to suicidal thoughts at least once.
Physician Burnout According To the Maslach Burnout Inventory or MBI-
Studies show that about 1 in 3 women suffer from physician burnout. This has been characterized by the Maslach Burnout Inventory or MBI. This condition has three characteristic stages which emphasize the symptoms. These include:
Most doctors feel emotionally drained after a whole day in the clinic or in a hospital checking patients, talking to their family members and evaluating their symptoms, test results, future treatment etc. But for female doctors simply coming back home does not mean the end of the day. They are also expected to fulfill the roles of a daughter or daughter-in-law, mother and wife. Many female doctors go back home and engage themselves in cooking, preparing dinner for their family and making arrangements for the next day in office. So on top of the emotional downwards spiral most women have to deal with the lack of personal space and time which makes recuperation from emotional exhaustion next to impossible.
This is the stage that usually follows emotional exhaustion. Depersonalization is characterized by an excessively detached attitude towards their jobs, colleagues and patients. This is nothing but a dysfunctional coping mechanism which many female doctors adopt for the time being to deny the feeling of extensive emotional exhaustion.
This is the last nail in the coffin. This is the final stage where doctors start to doubt their own abilities, decisions and work.
Although male doctors can go through the same stages, however their second stage of emotional exhaustion is extremely short-lived. The third stage of burnout pattern is remarkably absent from a male doctor’s behavior. This means, male doctors mostly continue their practice in complete denial of their emotional stress. They still show no kind of self-doubt and see themselves as “good doctors”. This is one of the prime factors which bring about the disparity in the numbers of practicing doctors in India. When most women quit due to emotional stress, men are less susceptible to the same and continue practicing medicine. The male doctors become more withdrawn, irritable and passively suicidal if they continue to perform without any kind of emotional attachment.
A battle of the sexes for a higher happiness quotient:
Doctors may live their lives addressing other people’s ailments but they are themselves not immune to depression. Beyond Blue a magazine which published a survey on depression among doctors in October 2013 shows that one in ten doctors have suicidal thoughts at least once in a year. 6 percent of doctors experience high psychological stress owing to stressful working hours, especially when they are under 30 years of age.
As a part of this study, it was also shown that male doctors work longer hours than women and hence experience more work related stress. To make matters worse, male doctors mostly refrain from seeking psychological help mostly because of the stigma that still persists surrounding “shrinks” and their medications. Hence battling with depression day in and day out becomes a private affair. 33 percent of them resort to jogging, exercise and alcohol as coping mechanisms which help them with their personal strife with depressive disorders. But it is easier for female doctors to reach out for psychological counseling and psychiatric care, which makes life and work just a little brighter for them.
So as we see, happiness and its enemies may were different facades when it comes to gender differences. But at the end of the day lives of both sexes in this profession are governed by a number of familial, societal and psychological factors which influence their happiness and job satisfaction. There is no clear indication as to who are more satisfied with their jobs or who are happier, however it is clear that both male and female doctors of our nation have their own battles which they have been fighting for decades to keep their patients happy and healthy.