By Katie McBeth
Breaking news in the healthcare world! We’ve most likely known (through personal experience or intuition) that female doctors are wonderful, but now there is scientific proof to back that up.
A Harvard research team conducted studies on elderly patients and their doctors, with particular emphasis on the mortality rate of these patients. The article was published on December 19th, 2016, in JAMA Internal Medicine.
As NPR writes: “Harvard researchers have found that female doctors who care for elderly hospitalized patients get better results. Patients cared for by women were less likely to die or return to the hospital after discharge.”
Although the study looks specifically at the older generation, other studies have shown that female doctors are more likely to perform preventative tests and screenings, and are more likely to follow recommendations from national studies (also known as evidence-based medicine).
This is exciting news for many women in the healthcare field (and their patients), but there is one huge setback: there’s a major gender disparity and pay gap in healthcare.
The Surprising Healthcare Pay Gap
JAMA Internal Medicine released another study in July that looked into the wages of over ten thousand medical professionals at 24 different institutions. The results showed that an average difference between male and female wages was just under $20,000 per year.
Yet, female doctors are not the only group slighted in the healthcare industry. Nurses and nurse practitioners also suffer from a wage gap, despite the fact that they are the majority gender within the career; with a national average of 9.5 female nurses to every 1 male nurse. On top of this, nurses have to fight for overtime pay since many hospitals and private care facilities expect their nurses to work ridiculously long hours without compensation.
The nursing wage gap is slightly smaller, with only a $5,000 difference per year, but the implications are the same: women work harder, (generally) better, and still aren’t appropriately paid for their services.
Supporting Women in Healthcare
With the constant battle over the female body in America, it is getting harder and harder every day for female doctors and nurses to continue their work. Many female physicians are the only source of health information for women around the country.
Regis College, a private nursing school in Boston, highlights the important need for female nurse practitioners in poor communities: “One of the most important areas of study is the intersection of socioeconomic factors and women’s health. Researchers attributed the risk [of socioeconomic and health concerns] to a number of factors, including lack of access to preventive care, incomplete education about health issues, and high stress levels. Without access to necessary preventive treatment and prenatal care, these low-income women suffer significantly higher mortality rates than the rest of the population.”
Female nurses and doctors need all the support they can get, as they are some of the only support female patients receive in regards to their health. Hopefully this recent study on mortality rates among patients will help open the doors for female doctors; offering them more opportunities and inspiring younger women to join the ranks.
The doctors at NPR, Dr. Sarah-Anne Henning Schumann and her husband Dr. John Henning Schumann, speculated over the results of the recent JAMA study near the end of the article:
Sarah-Anne: “I’m assuming the difference is because of the way that women, in general, communicate. It’s about being better listeners, more nurturing and having emotional intelligence.”
John: “There are plenty of men who are good communicators.“
Sarah-Anne: “Yes, just as there are plenty of women who don’t really have those qualities. For female doctors, having worked their way through pre-med, med school and residency, they can have some of that nurturing communication skill beaten out of them.“
John: “That happens to men, too!“
Sarah-Anne: “That’s true. But this study shows us — just possibly — that if female doctors, on average, communicate better, their style might be more effective in treating disease and preventing death.“
They finish their discussion with an interesting thought: although patients might fare better with female doctors, what this study really shows is how important it is to teach excellent communication and emotional intelligence skills to doctors in medical school.
As for solving the pay gap? That’s a difficult discussion, possibly for another day, but hopefully this study will offer a platform to start the conversation.
Katie McBeth is a Freelance writer and former bookseller based out of Boise, ID. She enjoys reading teen novels, eating mac ‘n cheese, attending indie concerts in small bars, and long walks on the beach. Her love for reading is only trumped by her love for cats, of which she has three. She also has a dog, and he helps keep her grounded. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.