Women doctors still hit academic glass ceiling

August 13, 2004

Women are severely underrepresented in senior academic positions in medicine, despite increasing numbers in the medical profession as a whole, academic medics have warned.

Women are a "precious resource" at senior levels in university medical schools, because they are not able to climb the academic career ladder, according to Anita Holdcroft of the British Medical Association's Medical Academic Staff Committee.

"There is the expectation that you work 60 hours-plus a week. Either you are set very ambitious goals and targets or you are not given the personnel you need to help you," Dr Holdcroft said. She explained that the working culture in academic medicine was not forgiving to women who wanted to work part time.

The comments follow remarks last month by Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians, that there were too many women doctors graduating from medical schools, and that they could dominate the National Health Service in the future.

Dr Holdcroft, reader in anaesthesia in the faculty of medicine at Imperial College London, said that drawing attention to the higher proportion of women entering medicine could obscure problems over the shortage of women in academic medicine.

A previous British Medical Association report showed that despite the fact that numbers of women in medicine are increasing, there are still fewer women than men in academic medicine.

Dr Holdcroft also said that more work could be done to reveal inequalities.

"The BMA has consistently advised that all aspects of women's careers be monitored so that differences, such as in salaries and professional status, can be made clearly visible."

David Gordon, dean of the faculty of medicine at Manchester University and chair of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said: "It's important to have women on senior academic staff who can act as role models for the female medical students."

Dr Holdcroft favoured the introduction of a mentoring scheme, which could highlight the difficulties women face. "This can be a major catalyst for culture change," she said.

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