Paul Coombes and Helena Cronin were members of the oversight steering group for the Royal College of Physicians on its project on the future of women in medicine. The project analyzed data from NHS workforce statistics as well as various forms of entry statistics. The full report is available here.
In a short summary article Paul Coombes drew out some the significant findings. Rather like law, the numbers of women entering now form the majority of entrants and by 2017 women will constitute the majority of the medical profession. Yet there are dramatic differences in the selection of specialties by men and women which can be explained by work characteristics and patterns.
Two areas of systematic difference stand out from the latest research:For example, as the internal characteristics of the specialties change so does their attractiveness to women. Hence, as anaesthetics has become more shift-based and less open-ended with more predictable working patterns, there has been a rise in women trainees.
1. Women doctors’ comparative preference, on average, for working in specialties that offer a relatively greater amount of patient interaction and/or more ‘plan-able’ working hours.
2. The far greater preference of women doctors, compared with men, for part-time or other forms of flexible working.
The differences are also found across other health systems and is not merely a function of the NHS funding model.
It is now possible to predict how women's working practices are formed and will change. It will be interesting to see how analogous predictions play out in the legal profession.