Female doctors in Australia have made significant contributions to the healthcare industry, with a growing number of women choosing to pursue careers in medicine.
According to the Australian Medical Association, women now make up more than 50% of medical graduates in Australia. However, despite the increasing number of women in medicine, they still face unique challenges and barriers.
With International Women’s Day in March, we wanted to celebrate and shine a spotlight on female doctors in Australia and their important role in healthcare.
Medical and Healthcare Workforce in Australia
According to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there were 1.7 million people employed in the healthcare and social assistance industry in Australia from 2019, making up 13.1% of all employed persons. It makes the healthcare and social assistance industry one of the largest employers in Australia and has seen significant growth in recent years.
Female General Practitioners:
According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, from 2019 48% of general practitioners in Australia were female. This is a significant increase from just 23% in 1995. In addition, the number of female medical students has been steadily increasing, which is likely to lead to a further increase in the number of female general practitioners in the future.
According to the Pharmacy Board of Australia, from 2021, 61% of registered pharmacists in Australia were female. This is an increase from 55% in 2011. The number of female pharmacists has been steadily increasing over the past decade, while the number of male pharmacists has been decreasing.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, from 2020, there were over 375,000 registered nurses in Australia, with around 90% of them being female. In addition, over 50% of enrolled nurses and 80% of nursing assistants and personal care workers were female.
Overall, the healthcare and social assistance industry in Australia has a significant proportion of female workers, particularly in professions such as nursing and medical imaging. The proportion of female general practitioners and pharmacists has also been steadily increasing over the years.
Challenges faced by female doctors in Australia
Gender Pay Gap: The gender pay gap is a persistent issue in many industries, including healthcare. According to the 2020 Remuneration Survey conducted by the Australian Medical Association (AMA), female doctors earn on average 25.3% less than male doctors. This gap is even wider for specialists, where the difference in pay between male and female doctors is 32.3%. This gender pay gap is even more pronounced for female doctors who work part-time, with an average income of only 67% of their male counterparts who work full-time.
Unconscious Bias: Despite progress in achieving gender equality in medicine, unconscious bias remains an issue. Unconscious bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious way. This can result in women being overlooked for leadership positions, opportunities for career advancement, or being taken less seriously than their male colleagues. A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2019 even found that female doctors were less likely to be referred to as “Doctor” compared to their male colleagues.
Work-Life Balance Issues: Work-life balance is a significant issue for many doctors, particularly for those with caregiving responsibilities. A survey conducted by the AMA found that female doctors were more likely than their male counterparts to reduce their work hours or take time off work for caregiving responsibilities. This can have an impact on their career progression and earning potential.
Lack of Mentorship and Support: Female doctors may also face a lack of mentorship and support in their careers. A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2020 found that female obstetricians and gynaecologists were less likely to have a mentor and less likely to report being satisfied with the mentorship they received compared to their male colleagues.
It is important to address these issues and ensure that female doctors receive equal opportunities and support. This can include measures such as pay equity initiatives, unconscious bias training, and flexible working arrangements. By addressing these challenges, we can create a more supportive healthcare system for all.
Inspiring stories of female doctors in Australia
Dr. Fiona Wood: Dr. Fiona Wood is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who is known for her work in treating burns. She developed the “spray-on skin” technique, which uses the patient’s own skin cells to create a protective layer over the burn wound. This technique has revolutionized the treatment of burns and has been used to treat patients around the world.
Prof. Karen Canfell: Prof. Karen Canfell is a cancer epidemiologist who has made significant contributions to the field of cancer research in Australia. She led the development of the cervical cancer screening program in Australia, which has been highly successful in reducing the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer. She also led the development of the BreastScreen Australia program, which provides free mammography screening to women aged 50-74.
Dr. Michelle Ananda-Rajah: Dr. Michelle Ananda-Rajah is an infectious diseases physician who has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 response in Australia. She has been instrumental in developing and implementing protocols for managing COVID-19 patients, and has been a strong advocate for public health measures.
Prof. Kathryn North: Prof. Kathryn North is a geneticist who has made significant contributions to the understanding of inherited diseases. She led the team that identified the gene responsible for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a debilitating and life-threatening muscle disorder. She is also the director of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, which is one of the largest medical research institutes in Australia.
Dr. Clare Skinner: Dr. Clare Skinner is an emergency physician who has dedicated her career to improving the care of patients with mental health conditions in emergency departments. She is the founder and director of the Emergency Mental Health Research Program at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, which focuses on improving the care of patients with mental health conditions in emergency departments.
Dr. Anne Chang: Dr. Anne Chang is a respiratory physician who has made significant contributions to the understanding and treatment of respiratory diseases in children. She is the director of the Child Health Division at Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, and has led several ground breaking studies on the prevention and treatment of childhood respiratory infections.
Dr. Ranjana Srivastava: Dr. Ranjana Srivastava is an oncologist and author who has written extensively about the human side of medicine. She is a strong advocate for patient-centred care, and has spoken out about the importance of empathy and compassion in healthcare. She is the author of several books, including “Dying for a Chat: The Communication Breakdown Between Doctors and Patients.”
Dr. Caroline West: Dr. Caroline West is a general practitioner and sexual health expert who has been a strong advocate for women’s health and reproductive rights. She is the founder of the “Contraceptive Choice” campaign, which aims to improve access to contraception for women in Australia. She is also a regular media commentator on issues related to women’s health and reproductive rights.
These are just a few examples of the inspiring female doctors who have made significant contributions to healthcare in Australia. There are many more female doctors who are doing amazing work in areas such as mental health, Indigenous health, and rural health. Their work serves as an inspiration and a reminder of the important role that women play in the medical profession.
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