IMA vows to break 'glass ceiling' holding female doctors back

Israel Medical Association secretary-general says that labor contracts still in effect today date back to the 1950s and 1960s as IMA promises to promote status of women doctors.

July 7, 2013 20:27
4 minute read.
NEW MOTHER Rotem Bar (left) and Dr. Hanni Olivestone pose with the newborn at Kaplan Medical Center

Doctor mother and baby 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Kaplan Medical Center)

The Israel Medical Association promised on Sunday to “break through the glass ceiling” and set up a team to promote the status of women doctors.

The field of medicine here and abroad is already involved in a gender change, in which more than half of medical students are women, IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said. The IMA has a woman as secretary-general but no other women in senior positions, As women also have babies and raise families, they have additional challenges and demands on their time that will change manpower needs in the field, he said. Studies have shown that women physicians tend to invest less time in research and clinical care because of their double roles as doctors and mothers.

Eidelman said he was sorry that there were no women physicians in the IMA secretariat.

Ben-Gurion University president Prof. Rivka Carmi, herself a pediatrician and geneticist, said at a conference on women doctors that “medicine was born as a masculine profession, and even though more than half of medical students are women, the rules of behavior remain masculine. As long as they remain, and doctors’ evening rounds in the hospital are held at 5 p.m. when mothers have to take their child [from daycare and other frameworks], it will remain so.

“At Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, we changed the hour of the meetings,” she said.

Female candidates for senior medical positions should be encouraged even by “freezing men’s candidacies until, in certain cases, equal numbers of women are found,” Carmi said.

Women doctors pursue their careers at the same time that their biological clocks are ticking, she added. “There is a huge distortion in the receipt by women of prizes and research grants,” said Carmi, who urged that a senior woman in academia be appointed to promote women in medicine through budgets and manpower and by preparing an annual report.

IMA secretary-general Leah Wapner said labor contracts still in effect date to the 1950s and 1960s, in which the status and presence of women were in a different world. These must not lead to preferential treatment for male physicians, she said.

Dr. Yisrael Eillig, head of anesthesiology at Soroka and head of the hospital branch of Clalit Health Services doctors, said many women are “still in the phase of fear. I try to persuade women not to be afraid, to apply and to demand their rights,” but they don’t always do so.

Former MK and gynecologist Dr. Rachel Adatto said there was no doubt that “the change in women physicians’ status is revolutionizing medicine, with more women doctors in various fields and as hospital managers. But still, the heads of all four health funds are men.”

Prof. Hava Tabenkin, chairman of the department of family medicine at Emek Medical Center in Afula, said women have to “struggle 10 times more than men when they want a position. But it still occurs that a [male] hospital department chairman can decide that a woman will not be advanced because of her gender. Even if women decide that they want family and children and they don’t aspire to advance, there still are women who want to – and we have to work with them.”

Tabenkin noted that many senior hospital and Health Ministry administrators “grew up” in the Israel Defense Forces, where women’s role as physicians is much smaller.

“We are not identical to men,” said Afula Medical Center director-general Dr. Orna Blondheim – the first female general hospital director. “We don’t have to aspire to be exactly like them. We need to aspire to equal opportunities. The number of female administrators is a function of how many women medical students there were 20 years and more ago."

“As women accumulate experience, we will see a growth in motivation for them to fill administrative roles. We are in the process, even if it is not optimal,” she said.

Prof. Tsofia Ish-Shalom, chairman of the Women Doctors’ Society who also heads the metabolism unit at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, said that as long as women “can’t give birth after 40 [or so], advancement of women doctors will require adopting the US model of having daycare centers attached to hospitals.” In addition, female physicians should be able to work part time in the first year after giving birth. Half of members of tender boards should be women, she added, and the continuity of pension rights must be ensured despite maternity leaves.

Dr. Einat Madar, a resident in general medicine at Emek, said “it isn’t easy to be a woman doctor with children.”

She objected to the regulation that female physicians may not work night or weekend shifts after their 20th week of pregnancy.

“Early in pregnancy, I always spent more time at the toilet than with patients. But in a later stages, I flower. I suffer during shifts until the 20th week, but afterward, I’m like a dancer, but I’m not allowed to do shifts,” she said.

Women doctors have equal obligations, said Dr. Tami Karni, a surgeon and head of the women’s health institute at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center. “We have to find appropriate people to take care of the children or clean the house.”

She opposed having halftime jobs for surgical residents.

“A surgeon is not different from a pianist who has constantly to practice. You won’t find a half-time pianist,” she said.

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