Are Women Doctors Better Than Men? Maybe They Just See Fewer Patients.

An Overview of the Findings of the Study

The authors of the recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine have come to a clear conclusion: they claim that female doctors are better than male doctors. But how is ‘better’ quantified? The study points out a number of findings which seem to indicate that the level of care female doctors provide to their patients, as well as the quality of the care, is noticeably higher.

Their findings indicate that when female doctors treated elderly patients, there was a four percent risk reduction in mortality. In addition, there was a small, but nevertheless clinically significant, reduction in the rates at which patients were readmitted for care.

They conclude that, all things considered, the difference in terms of treatment provided by male and female doctors is so stark that if males were to adopt the same standard of care as female doctors, they could save approximately 32,000 more lives.

Why does this discrepancy exist?

Once presented with the claim that female doctors outperform their male counterparts, we’re left to wonder why this discrepancy exists. What factors contribute to the stark differences between the level of care provided by the two groups?

When the authors of the study were asked to explain their findings, they had some interesting insight. One of the things that they unanimously seem to agree on is that there may be a stark difference in terms of the approach taken by female doctors towards their patients.

Their findings seem to suggest that female doctors are better in terms of communicating with their patients and answering any questions that they may have. They are also keener and pay a greater deal of attention to detail. In addition, it is suggested that the reasons for the differences between the two groups may also boil down to the fact that women are, based on standardized test performances, objectively smarter than men.

Who sees more patients?

While the findings may very likely be true and may be the primary reason for the difference in the two groups, one important factor still remains to be considered: who sees more patients?

The study points out that female doctors see, on average, about 37% fewer patients than male doctors. Many other studies seem to corroborate this data. In addition, another study from 2000 indicates that female physicians also typically work fewer hours than male physicians. The study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, pointed out that 22% of women in the profession worked part-time whereas only 9% of men worked part-time. In 2016, Medscape’s compensation survey also confirmed this trend, with 26 percent of female physicians spending about forty hours a week with patients, compared to 40 percent of male doctors.

From this information, it is easy to discern that a doctor who spends fewer hours working, and during that period, sees fewer patients, is bound to provide a better degree of care. This is a variable which must be taken into account when talking about the difference in care provided by male and female doctors. If, in the original study, this variable was taken into account, there is a good chance that the discrepancy wouldn’t be as stark. The authors of the original study did not take into account the number of patients seen or the number of hours worked by doctors of opposite sexes.

The Opinions of Professionals in the Field

It is also important to get a clear idea of how things work in the healthcare profession. The best way to do this is by getting invaluable input from professionals who have first-hand experience with both male and female doctors.

1) - I am a family physician in private practice in NJ. I am responding to your query about women vs. men doctors. There are good women doctors and bad ones. There are good men doctors and bad ones. Some
women work less than men but there are men doctors who work less than some women doctors.
The studies recently published ignored many variables in their conclusions and I don't think you can make any generalizations from the results. – Linda

2) - In the five years I worked for the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) (from 2008 - 2013) I evaluated the clinical communication skills of over 5,000 doctors from all over the world. I was a standardized patient for the medical boards. (The Step II Clinical Skills test that every medical student must pass in order to qualify for a medical residency in the US)

When you're talking about how the patient perceives the doctor, male or female doesn't matter from a clinical communication standpoint--which is what most patients are judging them from. Some doctors are better at communicating with the patient than others. It is not gender specific. I never saw that women were better communicators over their male counterparts or vice versa. Both genders had the same number of strengths and weaknesses. If the patient has a bias they are working from, preferring a male doctor over a woman doctor, that's a different issue, but from a communications perspective, both the male and female doctors I worked with had equal skill levels. - Marilyn

3) - As far as whether men or women make better doctors, I think there's not only a huge amount of personal variation, but the question itself hinges on how we define 'better'. A meta analysis published in Patient Education and Counseling found that patients spoke more to female physicians and disclosed more biomedical and psychosocial information, but also interrupted female physicians more.

If we define better as the level of comfort a patient feels in communicating with a doctor, then presumably one can say that women, generally speaking, are probably better in this very specific context. However, this also raises questions about the degree to which patients will actually listen to the advice provided by a doctor, and if a female doctor is more often ignored, leading to poorer patient outcomes. There is also an argument to be made about potential loss of efficiency and fewer patients seen that are also in need of treatment. – Jennifer

What to Take Away 

After reading the testimonials of professionals in the field and understanding that there were certain variables that the original study overlooked, it is clear that neither male nor female doctors are better than their counterparts. There are a number of factors which a patient considers when they evaluate their doctor, and personal biases sometimes do play a role. In conclusion, it would be too simplistic to say that female doctors are better than their male counterparts.


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