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Are Women Better Doctors Than Men?

Women seem to be outperforming males at the hospital, a previously male-dominated workplace.

Harvard conducted a study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that hospitalized patients treated by female doctors were less likely to die or be readmitted within 30 days. The researchers estimated “that approximately 32,000 fewer patients would die if male physicians could achieve the same outcomes as female physicians every year.”

This raises a very important and slightly controversial question: Are women better suited for the medical field than men?

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Though the Harvard study’s researchers could not identify the variables that contributed to the results, NPR turned to health experts to offer a few theories. Dr. Sarah-Anne Henning Schumann and Dr. John Henning Schumann weighed in on the study on the NPR program “All Things Considered” as well as contributed to the health blog, “Shots.”

The married duo, who both work in the health field, discussed possible reasons behind the findings. Dr. Sarah-Anne discussed the role gender plays in the world of medicine and how women are likely to be take a more compassionate approach in this environment.

“I think this has really confirmed what a lot have us have suspected over many years which is that in general women tend to be better communicators, they generally have better emotional intelligence and often are able to see patients as people and not as diseases,” Dr. Sarah-Anne said.

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Though she acknowledged that this characterization was a huge generalization, Dr. Sarah-Anne believes that this difference may be due to the emotional traits many women share.

“In general, there are more women who have these skills and are comfortable sharing the responsibility for the care of the patient that goes back to the maternal instincts of women,” she continued.

Medical education has begun to take a holistic approach for accepting applicants. One of these progressive changes is promoting a more nurturing approach to provide care for patients.

“So if we have only one style, I think we run the risk of alienating certain patients that we have,” Dr. John said. “Whereas if we’re more emotionally intelligent and are able to read cues – you know, nonverbal language but, you know, obviously words as well – we are probably more able to deliver better care.”

While the nurturing trait is important for all doctors, women as caretakers is a popular trope that have plagued women since mothers historically took care of the children in the household. This may also be carried over to the workplace, causing businesses to associate these traits with their female employees.

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Dr. Sarah-Anne shares that being a female doctor also affects her reputation, even within her family. Though both her and her husband have medial school degrees and respected careers, both sides of their families turn to Dr. John for health advice.

“I never really thought about that. I can see how that’s totally male privilege,” Dr. John admits after hearing his wife’s observation. “It has to be frustrating to be taken less seriously.”

This divide does not stop with reputation; the disparity is also reflected in the paycheck.

An editorial from JAMA Internal Medicine, the journal where the study was published, brought up the pay disparity still prevalent between male and female doctors. Another study from JAMA found “salaries for female academic physicians are $19,879, or 8.0%, lower than those of their male colleagues.”

Considering female doctors receive less respect and pay, the news that women save more lives is noteworthy. Perhaps the study will encourage more women to enter the field of medicine and change the male-dynamic of the profession.

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