The number of female doctors in cardiology nearly doubled in the last decade, and male and female cardiologists both report a high level of job satisfaction, according to findings from a 10-year follow-up survey published in the December 16/23, 2008, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Still, women account for less than 20 percent of all cardiologists, despite nearly equal numbers of men and women graduating from medical schools. Moreover, two-thirds of women continue to report discrimination, mostly due to competing demands of parenting and family responsibilities.
"Women in cardiology continue to face the same institutional and personal roadblocks as those in other areas of medicine and science," says Athena Poppas, M.D., F.A.C.C., associate professor of medicine, Brown University Medical School, RI. "Women don't choose to specialize as much as their male counterparts for a variety of reasons, including the intensity and length of training—at least six years for cardiology—during peak childbearing years."
As more and more Americans live with chronic heart conditions, the need to ensure a stable and competent cardiology workforce, including the recruitment of women, has become increasingly urgent.
"One-third of Americans will have cardiovascular disease, so we must attract the best and the brightest—and that includes women—to keep up with demand and provide the highest level of patient care and research to help advance the field," says Dr. Poppas, who also serves as chair of the American College of Cardiology's Women in Cardiology Council, which commissioned the study. "We need to find ways to reduce discrimination, establish greater flexibility in work hours, and expand opportunities for mentorship to better meet the needs of women and men as they plan their careers in cardiology."
The need for greater flexibility is no longer gender-specific; both male and female doctors are striving for a better work-life balance. In fact, a similar proportion of male and female cardiologists are working less than full-time (80% vs 82%). This coincides with an overall trend toward more lifestyle-friendly areas of medicine, such as emergency departments, anesthesiology and radiology, which give doctors more control over their hours.
"The perception is that cardiology is more demanding, and the hours less easy to control than other areas of medicine. Cardiology involves life-threatening emergencies, so you're not always sure you'll be home for dinner or make it to the school play," she says. "But it's incredibly rewarding and it shows. Cardiologists of both genders love what they do—nine out of 10 say they are moderately to highly satisfied."
According to the survey, women are also less likely than men to pursue interventional cardiology due, in part, to concerns about radiation exposure and pregnancy risks. One in four women reported selecting tracks to reduce their radiation risk. Female cardiologists are also more likely to have interruptions in their training or practice and, similar to other demanding professions such as law and business, they are much less likely to be married or have children than their male colleagues.
The current survey of 1,110 participants, a follow up to the 1996 survey, aims to better understand the career and lifestyle needs of male and female cardiologists.
This study is part of larger efforts by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) to take a critical look at why women remain under-represented in cardiology, and play a leadership role in helping to attract and retain young female medical students to the field through training, leadership and professional development.
"We're making progress, but we still have a long way to go to provide better opportunities and support for women cardiologists, and to be able to recruit more to the field," said W. Douglas Weaver, M.D., ACC's president. "The College is committed to spearheading efforts to find creative solutions to meet the needs of our female colleges."
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