Feminisation of the workforce: truly a problem?

This is a copy of a letter I am sending to the editor of the UK Newspaper The Times following an editorial by a Dominic Lawson. The article is available at http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/comment/columns/dominiclawson/article1656813.ece

Dear sir (or madam, because I hold hope that a woman may be employed by The Times),

As you may know, social media has been quite intrigued by the article written by Mr Dominic Lawson entitled ‘The one sex change on the NHS that nobody has been talking about’. Mr Lawson’s article is placing the blame for workforce issues, including the current junior doctors’ contract dispute, squarely at the feet of the female doctors in the NHS. I am writing with both a strong rebuttal but also to express my extreme offence at the article.

My background is that I am a female doctor and moreover, I am a female heart and lung surgeon who practices in Australia. The shockwaves of this article have reached that far. In this country, our own regulatory bodies including the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons have gone to great lengths to investigate and move towards a medical workforce where opinions in the style of Mr Lawson are regarded as discriminatory and antiquated. 2015 has begun an era in Australia and more specifically in surgery when we will no longer tolerate sexism.

It is remiss of anyone to think that women alone are responsible for any issues related to work-life balance. Men also wish to be a part of their children’s upbringing just as much as their wives.  Both male and female medical graduates make informed decisions about their career choices based on this. Many professions are now pushing for safe working hours and balance in one’s life. This balance is so important for the physical and mental well-being of employees and is much more likely to yield productive employees. It is extremely inaccurate to say that this solely an issue of ‘feminisation of the workforce’.

‘Piling up’ in accident and emergency wards has very little to do with doctors and a lot to do with the health workforce at large. Casualty is subjected to enormous pressures with patients who are increasingly complex, unable to access their overworked and under resourced general practices and hence overflow to emergency departments. Understaffing of orderlies, laboratories, radiology, wards and bed numbers at capacity are a real problem. Citing this as a side effect of graduating more female medics suggests that Mr Lawson has failed to grasp the actual issues that face a modern workforce and more specifically, that are faced in health care today. I would suggest that these issues are not only more real, but much more deserving of an editorial.

The general tone of the editorial is insulting to doctors like myself, who are consummate professionals, who are highly skilled and would get out of bed at any time for a patient who needs our care. It is an insult to the hours we have all freely given (in a financial and social sense) to the practice of our craft. In 2016, there is absolutely no place for editorials that are inflammatory and sexist. Maintaining a healthy and balanced workforce must be discussed. We should discuss how to accommodate maternity leave in a professional manner, not in the pages of a newspaper, with approaches for real workable solutions, not blaming one group for a problem.

Mr Lawson has mentioned that his daughter may take issue with his opinion. I honestly hope that she does. More importantly, I hope that Mr Lawson keeps in mind how he would like someone to speak of his daughter’s skill, commitment and achievements in such a fashion as he does to mine. I doubt many fathers would truly be happy with their offspring being spoken of as he has done to me and my female colleagues across the globe.

 

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