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Discussion paper

Wanted: New Rural Workforce Strategies for Female Doctors

Findings from a survey of women in rural medicine

15 Feb 2001

Rural medical workforce shortage it is critical to have recruitment and retention strategies in place in NSW to suit the diversity of medical practitioners, male and female. During 2000 the NSW Rural Doctors Network (RDN) surveyed female and male general practitioners and female specialists working and residing in rural and remote NSW to determine if RDN’s strategies to attract and support rural and remote doctors are likely to be as effective for female doctors as for male doctors. The findings of RDN’s research suggest that additional strategies are needed to attract and retain females to rural practice. The findings from the surveys confirm that RDN’s current strategies are likely to be effective for the majority of male medical practitioners, and further, that the changes that the male general practitioners would make to improve recruitment and retention rates to rural and remote practice are closely aligned with strategies already in place in NSW. The females surveyed raised very different issues from those raised by the males. Males tended not to mention family responsibilities whereas the females were very concerned about difficulties related to balancing professional and family responsibilities. The findings suggest that RDN should introduce additional “family friendly” rural medical workforce initiatives. Research elsewhere suggests that there are increasing numbers of younger males who are also wanting to adopt more “family friendly” modes of practice. A number of recommendations are made in response to the findings from the surveys. Recommendations are included that aim to address the difficulties associated with balancing family and professional responsibilities. This is in response to the four major themes that emerge from the female medical practitioner responses: § The role conflict that the women experience - balancing work and family life – Female rural and remote medical practitioners have the major responsibility for the care of the children. Male general practitioners do not, as a rule, have the main responsibility for raising children. § The need for flexible practice and training opportunities –Female medical practitioners want flexible working and training arrangements - part time and job sharing opportunities, salaried as well as private practice arrangements, on call and after hours arrangements which do not compete with them as the primary family carers. § The desire for support networks to overcome social and professional isolation –and linked to this is continuing medical education (CME) to be responsive to the issues that affect them as female practitioners. § Spouse Issues – Women tend to follow their spouses/partners. The survey found 38% of the female general practitioners are in the rural or remote workforce because of their husbands/partners. This has implications for females in rural practice who may not have trained for rural practice. Another important finding is that a high percentage of male and female medical practitioners surveyed would prefer to work fewer hours, but are prevented from doing so primarily by the rural medical workforce shortage and financial considerations. Almost half of all medical practitioners intend to, or may leave, their current practices within five years. This confirms that Page 5 17/09/02 the rural medical workforce is very mobile. Recommendations are made that aim to address these issues as well.

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NSW Rural Doctors Network Discussion Paper
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