The survey results, released during Women in Medicine Month and available to the public on Medscape.com [https://www.medscape.com/womeninmedicine], run counter to recent trends pointing to widespread professional dissatisfaction among physicians, and a presumption that work-life balance and gender bias concerns dissuade female physicians from valuing and aspiring to leadership roles. In fact, the results show that female physicians place high value on attaining a leadership role at work, and once there, report being "very happy" at work even more often than non-leaders.
The results also suggest that female doctors pursue leadership roles more for altruistic reasons, such as effecting change and inspiring others, rather than strictly for career advancement.
The "Women as Physician Leaders" survey reflects responses from 3285 practicing female physicians about the challenges and opportunities they face in their careers. The poll was designed to measure similarities and distinctions between leaders (i.e., those who hold top positions in their practice or within a professional association or academic department) and non-leaders. More than half of respondents have held, or currently hold at least one leadership post.
To view the full Medscape "Women as Physician Leaders," report and related content, visit: https://www.medscape.com/womeninmedicine
Job Happiness and Motivation
Overall job and life satisfaction were generally high among respondents, most of whom were married (74%) and had children (81%).
- More than half of respondents (53%) held at least one leadership post.
- A comparable number (47%) of those not in leadership positions view attaining one in their main practice setting as important.
- Although more than half (53%) stated that their careers interfere with their personal lives, more than two thirds reported being happy in their jobs (68%) and more than three quarters were happy in their private lives (83%).
Leaders report greater happiness. The view from the top was especially positive in terms of job satisfaction.
- A greater percentage of leaders said they were somewhat/very happy in their work (72%) compared with non-leaders (63%).
- Among those reporting to be "very happy," leaders outnumbered non-leaders by 2 to 1, with 30% of leaders reporting the highest degree of work-related happiness compared with non-leaders (21%).
- The "happiness quotient" favored leaders despite their reporting more significant work-life balance issues than non-leaders (57% vs 48%, respectively).
Women motivated by selfless goals. Similarities appeared in respondents' leadership goals: Both leaders and non-leaders identified altruistic motivations behind their job aspirations. In response to the question "Why is maintaining/attaining a leadership role important?" the data show:
- Leaders and non-leaders most commonly answered "to effect change" (68% and 57%, respectively) and "to be a positive influence to others in the organization" (70% and 49%).
- Less than a quarter of respondents cited other motivations, such as financial compensation (21% and 22%), bolstering a resume (16% and 14%), or prestige (14% and 12%).
Leadership Challenges: Perception and Reality
Attitudinal differences emerged between the two groups on a broad range of leadership challenges, including time management, gender bias, work politics, and the best way to secure a leadership position. For each, the hands-on perspective reported by current leaders differed from the beliefs and expectations of their non-leader colleagues.
- Approximately two thirds of leaders and non-leaders (69% and 64%, respectively) identified time pressure as a major challenge to fulfilling the responsibilities of a top post. Yet, fewer than half of leaders (44%) find that it has significantly affected their personal lives, while 62% of non-leaders anticipate that it will, should they assume a leadership role.
- Regarding office politics, only about one third of leaders (35%) consider infighting a significant issue and even fewer (24%) find gender bias to affect their leadership opportunities. Among non-leaders, however, 55% expect infighting to occupy significant leadership time, and 40% anticipate gender bias problems.
The Path to Leadership: Ability, Connections, and Desire
Both groups also have widely varied views on what it takes to become a leader. Nearly three quarters of leaders (72%) attribute personal success to their own job performance while only half of non-leaders (55%) expect that to be a significant factor.
- Non-leaders are more likely than leaders to consider organizational alliances (60% vs 44%), peer support (54% vs 35%), and help from a mentor (50% vs 24%) as instrumental to securing a leadership spot.
The importance of leadership for oneself and for others. Perhaps the biggest difference between the groups is the degree to which they personally value and desire a leadership role. The vast majority of leaders (77%) consider their position personally important while only a minority of non-leaders (42%) view securing a leadership role as a personal priority. In fact, approximately 20% of non-leaders are uninterested in such a goal. Yet, nearly 9 out of 10 respondents in both groups (90% of leaders and 86% of non-leaders) believe that leadership roles are an important pursuit for women in general.
Hansa Bhargava, MD, WebMD Medical Editor
- "The high degree of job and personal satisfaction among female physicians in top posts contradicts so many stubborn misconceptions about women and their suitability and very desire for leadership. Clearly, these women are expertly navigating personal lives whether marriage, parenthood, or other commitments and exceptionally demanding professional responsibilities in ways that are adding fulfillment to their lives."
- "The difference between what actual leaders experience and the negative expectations that aspiring leaders fear may suggest that unwarranted suspicions, such as the need to make alliances and deal with office politics to get to the top, can be an unfortunate deterrent to success. Women leaders may want to mentor and encourage aspiring leaders to let go of these inhibitions and ask for what they want."
Susan R. Bailey, MD, speaker of the American Medical Association House of Delegates
- "If you have more emotional investment in your practice and feel more passionate about what you're doing, you're more likely to want to extend that passion beyond the examining room or operating room to be able to help medicine and your patients in other ways. That's why I got involved in medicine. I felt like there were so many factors influencing my ability to take care of my patients that went on in the state capitol; Washington, DC; and board rooms that it was important to influence that."
Janet Bickel, nationally recognized medical career development consultant and the author of Women in Medicine: Getting In, Growing, and Advancing
- "This is the best data I've seen so far supporting the idea that, indeed, a high percentage of women physicians retain their ambition to make a big difference, to have influence beyond their immediate workplace or immediate work with patients."
Diana Lautenberger, MAT, director of women in medicine and science for the Association of American Medical Colleges
- "It's great to celebrate progress, but we still have so far to go. Women have represented about half of medical school entering classes for 15 years. They should be similarly represented in middle-level leadership positions, but this number has only marginally changed over the past 20 years. Even though we have equal numbers of women coming in to the medical sector, they are still being pushed out by a culture that doesn't support their advancement. It's very encouraging that women are showing satisfaction and success in leadership positions; now we need to focus on our organizational cultures to address bias and give talented women opportunities to hold these positions."
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