New doctors: women outnumbering men

Women are more likely to be attracted to specialties such as paediatrics and obstetrics, where they have a more personal relationship with patients.

The medical profession is becoming increasingly feminized as women outnumber men among new graduates.

But women are more likely to be attracted to specialties such as paediatrics and obstetrics, where they have a more personal relationship with patients.

In a guest editorial published in the Malta Medical Journal, Prof. Joseph Cacciattolo – a consultant respiratory physician – notes that since 2004, more females than males started graduating in medicine, averaging around 52% per year, with a high of 62% in one particular year.

The trend is likely to persist for at least the next five years because women prevail among the current student population.

Women now make up 56% of the workforce in public health medicine, 50% in obstetrics/gynaecology, 42% in paediatrics and 25% of specialists in psychiatry. But women are significantly underrepresented in all branches of surgery.

According to Cacciattolo the gender-divide of medical specialties in Malta follows the patterns in many other developed countries.

“In general, more women than men seek professional pursuits that provide people-oriented and comprehensive care, when choosing a career in medicine,” he writes.

One reason for this is that women may be more attracted to specialties that afford closer interpersonal relationships, “as it is possible that women are generally more understanding in their approach to medical problems with strong social or emotional accents”. 

But it is also likely that the women are more attracted to certain specialties for more reasons like “flexible yet predictable work-patterns often sought by working mothers” and the “avoidance of anti-social hours”.  

According to Cacciattolo, Malta needs to discuss appropriate strategies to accommodate the increasing number of women doctors, which could include provision of more flexible working arrangements and adequate crèche and child-minding facilities.

The participation of women within the medical profession in Malta is relatively recent. Blanche Huber became the first woman to graduate in medicine, in 1925, but throughout her professional life she practised as a pharmacist.

Between the years 1925 and 1982, only 33 women qualified in medicine from the University of Malta, whereas between 1983 and 2014, a total of 636 women qualified. 

Men are becoming less attracted to the medical profession. 

One reason cited by Cacciattolo for this phenomenon is boys’ relative educational underachievement at secondary school level. Another reason could be that men are being increasingly attracted to careers in finance and IT, “as less arduous and shorter career paths, as well as a means of offering more lucrative prospects earlier on in life.”

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