The Challenges Faced by Women Physicians During the Pandemic

A of challenges faced by women during the pandemic had to temporarily give up their profession and career aspirations

On the professional front, there is a relative lack of job opportunities, with many smaller hospitals turning into exclusive COVID hospitals with certain fields requiring more professionals and other fields requiring lesser. Challenges faced by women physicians during the pandemic in some instances have had to compromise on their remuneration due to the overall slump in the economy. Many women post their maternity leave have not returned to work due to the current situation.

According to a recent article in the journal, a lot of challenges faced by women physicians during the pandemic who have held temporary, contract and non-tenure posts have reported job loss and those continuing have had a negative impact on both their academic performance in terms of publications and their clinical performance, which was absent for men in the same field and this, in turn, has affected their chances at promotion and led to an increase in the rate of women physician burnout according to the same article.

On a personal front, while it’s very lucky to have a very supportive family and a workplace throughout the pandemic, this has not been the same for many women physicians. The current pandemic has taken a significant toll on women physicians and many of their families. Hospitals and medical workplaces are now recognizing this and doing their best to help out in the current situation. There is a hope that with efforts from all the stakeholders the challenges faced by women physicians during the pandemic will be addressed, and more women will be keen to enter the profession.

Building on these findings and evidence of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, we propose four strategies institutions that employ women physicians and medical scientists should pursue.

First, institutions must intentionally implement best practices to recruit, select, retain, and promote women to help them regain career footing lost during the COVID-19 pandemic and improve diversity in leadership positions. Such practices include criterion-based evaluations that set performance priorities and metrics a priori and transparency of role requirements and compensation. Unfortunately, the necessarily rapid decisions made during the pandemic might have amplified unconscious bias regarding challenges faced by women physicians during the pandemic, competence or belonging in professional roles, and compromised gains towards equity, particularly for minoritized women. 

Leaders and institutions can create more advancement opportunities for women by dedicating financial and human resources so organization-wide policies are sustained in the long term, ensuring leaders are committed, incorporating accountability, collecting data, and adopting an intersectional lens.

Second, institutions should ensure they provide paid parental leave and resources to support caregiving. Flexible options for work location and timing can be helpful if they are part of a broader approach that recognizes the existence of family responsibilities for all employees. The pandemic has illustrated that employment flexibility initiatives can succeed if accompanied by the provision of adequate resources to allow workers to establish necessary boundaries and protect the time and space required for active work participation.

The ready availability of professional caregiving services, generous paid leave policies to allow men and women to participate in family caregiving when necessary, and conscious efforts to destigmatize their use are crucial to facilitating the work participation of women.

Third, academic institutions should ensure that women researchers receive adequate funding to mitigate any longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their contributions to medical science. This support is needed because challenges faced by women physicians during the pandemic have borne a disproportionate share of the burdens imposed by the pandemic, including losses in scholarly productivity and time for research.

 In addition to offering bridge funding to support researchers whose work was disrupted, institutions can target intramural support for topics more commonly studied by women, such as research on sex-related and gender-related differences in health. Institutions could also develop programs to fund research support for employees with family caregiving responsibilities.

Finally, institutions should more proactively address workplace gender bias and sexual harassment, which have worsened and taken on new forms with virtual work, particularly for non-white women. Institutions need to adopt approaches that go beyond mandatory training. Institutional leaders must explicitly embrace equity and inclusion and back up verbal commitments with aligned and adequately resourced organization-wide actions such as those listed above to create an environment in which bias and harassment are at the very least suppressed, if not eliminated.

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