Women in Medicine
Women to outnumber men by 2030
The number of female physicians will outnumber their male counterparts by 2030, projects a College report that has analyzed physician demographics in Ontario.
Assuming that current system and growth levels remain constant over time, the report projects that a gradual decline in male physicians with a concomitant increase in female physicians means there will be equal numbers of men and women in the College membership by 2029, and subsequent increases in the physician population will be lead by female physicians.
“In the practice of medicine, you could say that the only constant has been change,” said Dr. Nancy Whitmore, College Registrar/ CEO. “This shift from a profession overwhelmingly dominated by men to one where the majority of practitioners will be women is another example. As physicians, we must be nimble, to the changes brought by scientific advancement and to social change. That adaptability is part of the art of medicine,” she said.
In fact, the changing demographic is reflected in the College’s leadership. In 2018, Dr. Whitmore became the College’s first female Registrar/CEO, Dr. Brenda Copps is the College’s current Vice-President and late last year, Dr. Sheila Laredo was named as the College’s Chief Medical Advisor.
The College’s report uses 18 years of data, with the projections based on membership numbers drawn from the years 2009 to 2018. The purpose of this report is to document physician demographics and practice changes over time to better predict what the face of medicine will look like over the next 20 years.
Based on trends from the past 10 years, female physicians will account for approximately 50% of Ontario’s physician population by 2030.
The increase in female physicians since 2000 has been more pronounced in some specialties.
The report found that overall membership increased by 35% from 27,269 in 2000 to 36,721 in 2018. The number of women has doubled over the past 19 years, while the number of men only increased by 9% over the same period.
In fact, within some age groups, women have already surpassed their male colleagues in numbers. In both the 30-34 and 35-39 age-groups, women account for 55% of the membership.
The report also drilled down into the change within specialties. In 2000, women represented 43% of all family physicians in Ontario. They now make up 54% of the family physicians within the membership. A similar trend appears among pediatricians.
Surgical specialties remain largely male-dominated, though the number and proportion of women has been increasing steadily year over year. Within anesthesiology, the proportion of women has risen 93% over time. Orthopedic, plastic, and surgical other than obstetrics and gynecology, have more than doubled their numbers of women surgeons, yet the proportions of women remain low at 11%, 28%, and 20% respectively.
Obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN) is the one exception. The number of male OB-GYNs has decreased by 28% while women have increased their numbers by 129%.
Because of the small numbers, the College researchers did not break out the diagnostic specialties into specific specialties. Within all diagnostic specialties, the number of women has increased by 93% while the number of men increased modestly by 18%. Women, however, still only represent about a third (35%) of all diagnostic specialists.
“This transformation has been a long time in the making,” said Dr. Wendy Levinson, past chair of medicine at the University of Toronto. “I remember when I was in medical training in the late 1970s, we were just beginning to see significant numbers of women in the classroom. But it has been male dominated for a big part of my career, and as I rose into leadership roles, I was often the only woman in the room.”
In 2004, Dr. Levinson wrote an article titled “When Most Doctors are Women: What Lies Ahead?” in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The article predicted the impact that a stronger female presence within the medical profession would have on multiple levels of the system.
Today, she believes that a number of the predictions put forward in that article have been realized, including the emphasis of a patient-centred care dynamic and the strengthening of team relationships in the delivery of care.
The article also anticipated a greater realization, among physicians of both sexes, of the importance of achieving a work life balance. “When you see this kind of demographic shift, there are consequences. And in terms of the work life balance, I believe that it is not just good for women, but good for everyone,” Dr. Levinson told Dialogue. “Once you have a profession where maternity leave is possible, you begin to see more men take paternity leave. This includes a recognition towards the need for greater flexibility so that if someone needs to step away from their practice, then they can get coverage. I think the presence of women in medicine has definitely forged important pathways,” she said.