As a female primary care doctor I read, with interest, results presented at a conference of the World Organization of Family Doctors. The results are important for several reasons. Patients feel more rushed and less connected to their doctors than ever before so it is important to find someone you connect with. Though some studies suggest women connect better emotionally with their patients it takes its toll and women are more stressed out. Lastly, the number of women entering medical school is now higher than men so it is important to see how this will change our medical climate.
The upside from several published reports is that female family physicians tend to engage more emotionally with patients than their male colleagues; the downside is they report more job-related stress.
Patients benefit from having a trusting relationship with their physicians and this is especially important for primary care doctors who form long term relationships and see their patients more often. That deeper relationship, however, seems to carry a burden of greater stress for women physicians, who reported more headaches, sleep difficulties, gastrointestinal problems, and family stresses than their male colleagues.
In a recent survey of 110 family physicians in Canada (70 men and 40 women) there were some interesting findings. Although men saw almost an equal percentage of male and female patients (55% and 45%, respectively), women saw a preponderance of female patients (67% vs. 33% men). Women also reported spending significantly more time with each patient (17.8 minutes vs. 13.3 minutes).
Women engaged emotionally with their patients significantly more often than men, taking the time to “listen carefully, show respect, provide simple explanations of diagnosis and treatment, and allow time for questions.” Women also were significantly more likely to use relationship-building techniques, including sharing emotions, expressing a wide variety of emotions, and using positive emotions like smiling and reassurance.
Women experienced physical signs of stress significantly more often. They were also more likely than men to rely on social support from friends and family and to seek professional help to deal with these issues. Women also said that they felt pressure to see more patients in less time and complained about administrative decisions from superiors that added to job stress.
Men said they felt a loss of control because of numerous protocols that must be followed and expressed frustration at not being adequately recognized for their skills.
Both men and women said their jobs frequently interfered with their personal lives and health.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. I love this job yet do believe the more emotionally invested you are, the more stress, pain and anxiety you will experience with your patients. I find it well worth it.