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Open Access Research article

The impact of gender and parenthood on physicians' careers - professional and personal situation seven years after graduation

Barbara Buddeberg-Fischer1*, Martina Stamm1, Claus Buddeberg1, Georg Bauer2, Oliver Hämmig2, Michaela Knecht2 and Richard Klaghofer1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychosocial Medicine, Zurich University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland

2 Division of Public and Organizational Health, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, Zurich University, Zurich, Switzerland

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:40  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-40

Published: 18 February 2010

Abstract

Background

The profile of the medical profession is changing in regard to feminization, attitudes towards the profession, and the lifestyle aspirations of young physicians. The issues addressed in this study are the careers of female and male physicians seven years after graduation and the impact of parenthood on career development.

Methods

Data reported originates from the fifth assessment (T5) of the prospective SwissMedCareer Study, beginning in 2001 (T1). At T5 in 2009, 579 residents (81.4% of the initial sample at T1) participated in the questionnaire survey. They were asked about occupational factors, career-related factors including specialty choice and workplace, work-life balance and life satisfaction. The impact of gender and parenthood on the continuous variables was investigated by means of multivariate and univariate analyses of variance; categorical variables were analyzed using Chi-square tests.

Results

Female physicians, especially those with children, have lower rates of employment and show lower values in terms of career success and career support experiences than male physicians. In addition, parenthood has a negative impact on these career factors. In terms of work-life balance aspired to, female doctors are less career-oriented and are more inclined to consider part-time work or to continue their professional career following a break to bring up a family. Parenthood means less career-orientation and more part-time orientation. As regards life satisfaction, females show higher levels of satisfaction overall, especially where friends, leisure activities, and income are concerned. Compared to their male colleagues, female physicians are less advanced in their specialty qualification, are less prone to choosing prestigious surgical fields, have a mentor less often, more often work at small hospitals or in private practice, aspire less often to senior hospital or academic positions and consider part-time work more often. Any negative impact on career path and advancement is exacerbated by parenthood, especially as far as women are concerned.

Conclusion

The results of the present study reflect socially-rooted gender role stereotypes. Taking into account the feminization of medicine, special attention needs to be paid to female physicians, especially those with children. At an early stage of their career, they should be advised to be more proactive in seeking mentoring and career-planning opportunities. If gender equity in terms of career chances is to be achieved, special career-support measures will have to be provided, such as mentoring programs, role models, flexitime and flexible career structures.