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Br J Gen Pract. 2007 May 1; 57(538): 409.
PMCID: PMC2047019

Women in medicine

Frank Smith, Director of Postgraduate GP Education

Amanda Howe's editorial in February's Journal1 raises and discusses important issues around the implications of the ‘feminisation’ of the GP medical workforce. However, I think she over-emphasises the benefits of women doctors over men. A recent careful meta-analysis2 of women in medicine concluded that there were no gender specific competences, and there is conflicting evidence that men and women practice medicine differently. However, patients may have gender-shaped expectations that could interfere with doctor–patient communications.

Most GPs in the third age (over 50 years) are men working full-time, while newly qualified GPs are men and women (30:70%) wishing to work flexibly and hold a portfolio of roles.3 A pilot survey of third-age female GPs in Wessex has shown a striking intention to retire by 55 years of age. We are enlarging the survey, but, if confirmed, it could have a significant impact on workforce planning.

Amanda is right to bring the gender issue to the fore, especially after the widely published recent comments of the President of the Royal College of Physicians, but both sexes must be careful to look at these complex and important issues without allowing personal perception to overly influence the debate.


Conflict of interest

A man.


1. Howe A. Why family medicine benefits from more women doctors. Br J Gen Pract. 2007;57(535):91–92. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Kilminster S, Downes J, Gough D, et al. Women in medicine — is there a problem? A literature review of the changing gender composition structures and occupational cultures in medicine. Med Educ. 2007;41(1):39–49. [PubMed]
3. Scallan S, Smith F. National workforce demographics: the challenge for educational planning and deaneries. Educ Prim Care. 2006;17(6):535–540.

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners