WASHINGTON – When it comes to maintaining a work-life balance, female doctors were found to be more affected by the pandemic as compared to their male counterparts, revealed a recent study. It also found that more female doctors developed mental health issues as a result of this. 

Published recently in JAMA Network Open, the study was conducted on 276 American doctors who were at an early stage of their careers. The participants were first assessed when they were all interns between 2007 and 2008, and again in the next academic year. The study was based on their third interaction with the researchers which was done virtually. The main aim here was to understand whether men and women at the same stage of career in medicine are impacted differently in an emergency situation. 

Among the 215 participants who had participated in the third study, 53% were women. In households with children, almost 25% of the women were responsible for childcare and 31% for domestic tasks while 1% men were the primary caregivers for children and 7.2% had domestic responsibilities. When it comes to working from home, 41% women opted for it as compared to 22% of the men. In fact, 19.4% of women and 9.4% had to reduce their work hours during the pandemic. 

Men were found to be more likely to be married, have 3 or more children, work in a surgical specialty, work full time before the COVID-19 pandemic, and have a partner who did not currently work full time. Surprisingly, the gender differences were much more pronounced in cases where both the partners were doctors. In such instances, 45% of the women were still taking over domestic duties as opposed to 5% of men, and 28.6% of women took over childcare as opposed to 0% of the men. All this often led to the female doctors choosing to reduce their work hours or opting to work from home, which in turn, led to reduction in their income and having an adverse effect on their career progression, found the study.

“This study suggests that pandemic conditions are associated with an increase in gender inequalities within medicine and signals the importance of further attention and resources to mitigate the potential adverse consequences for the careers and well-being of physician mothers. We found significant gender disparities in work and family experiences and mental health symptoms among physician parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, which may translate to increased risk for suicide, medical errors, and lower quality of patient care for physician mothers,” the authors said in their report. 

Institutional and public policy solutions are needed to mitigate the potential adverse consequences for women’s careers and well-being, they concluded. For this, they need to actively work towards recruiting, retaining, and advancing women physicians, the authors suggested. They also recommended increased support for family care needs like childcare and paid family leave, flexible scheduling as well as encouraging male doctors to utilise parental leaves among other ways to mitigate the gender inequalities in the field of medicine.