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Macho medical culture excludes women, says report

The NHS and medical schools must tackle a "macho" culture that excludes women from senior positions, a British Medical Association (BMA) report says today (30 April 2008).

The Women in Academic Medicine report points out that while six in 10 medical students are female, women are under-represented at a senior level in medical academia.

One in five medical schools has no female professor, and only two of the 33 heads of UK medical schools are women.

This report contrasts with the claim earlier this month, by a leading GP, that the rise in women doctors risks a major shortfall in primary care provision due to the tendency for female GPs to work part-time.

The BMA's new survey, on the other hand, cites new findings from a survey of 1,162 medical academics, showing that two in five (41%) perceive women as disadvantaged in terms of career progression, and one in five (21%) perceives women as disadvantaged in terms of salary.

A common theme in focus groups organised by the researchers was the impact of the competitive and long hours culture in medical schools.

Doctors spoke of "a macho, aggressive cut-throat attitude" and said: "A fundamental issue is the long working hours. Success in academia is currently measured in terms of the amount of grants you get and the number of publications you have - a competition element."

Dr Anita Holdcroft, co-chair of the BMA's Medical Academic Staff Committee, says:

"There is an urgent need to tackle the complex factors that are impeding women's medical careers. We believe doing so will be to the ultimate benefit of academic excellence and the UK economy.

"If our medical schools are to achieve excellence, it is essential that the skills of women are valued."

The report calls on senior leaders in the NHS and higher education institutions to challenge "policies, practices, and subtexts" that impede women's career progression.