Several decades ago I began medical school as one of five women in my class. Medical school was followed by internship/residency at a tough city hospital in the days before 80 hour work week restrictions. So I considered myself a non-pampered full-fledged member of the medical profession. But after fellowship finished I was elated with the offer of a half-time job at a university clinic. The hours would prove perfect for raising young children. Of course, half time in medicine means 50% pay for at least 75% time. I worked 5 days per week, 6 hours each day, straight through lunch, so I could finish the workload and get home at a reasonable time. Outside of the regular clinic hours I was also responsible for any of my patients that were hospitalized and for every other week 24/7 on-call. But it was all tolerable because of the flexibility. I essentially job-shared with a near retirement age physician who had raised a large family and he was welcoming of my bringing children to work on the occasional school holiday or child care emergency day.
My rude awakening was the chance spotting of a young male physician at the shopping mall one mid-week afternoon.
“Hi – are you on vacation this week?”
“No – Wednesdays are my discretionary time”
“Yes – the day I don’t see patients. It’s the time I write my book, review residency training curriculum, do phone conferences…”
OK, I calculate. He’s my age, same amount of training, hired by the same university division. I work 5 days x 6 hours = 30 hours in clinic for 50% pay. He works 4 days x 8 hours = 32 hours in clinic for 100% pay. I did register a complaint which did nothing but label me troublemaker, but I was attached enough to my work hours that I didn’t pursue legal action. (That’s another story for when children were older).
Fast forward to August 3, 2008, The Outlook Section of The Washington Post. There’s an op-ed article by a physician bemoaning the current state of patient care in primary care medicine. No argument, primary care medicine is dying for a variety of economic reasons. But wait – our author has an answer. He claims there’s a “silver lining” in that many more women are entering medicine. Women tend to migrate to primary care fields, and they are documented to spend more time with patients even if they don’t get paid more. So there we go – cheap, undervalued labor is still with us!
Dr. Nana is a internist in a suburb of a large east coast city. She has a physician son, a son, and a physician daughter-in-law. Besides her clinical work, she is active in political action/legislative lobbying/educational efforts to preserve the practice of medicine, which is currently under assault on multiple fronts.