FEMALE hospital doctors admit having to act "masculine" to cope with the bias and discrimination they face on the wards.
The revelation emerges in a study which shows that although women make up more than half of trainee doctors, they account for fewer than one-third of hospital consultants.
Becoming a hospital consultant takes years of training and is regarded as the pinnacle of ambition – but many women are opting out of pursuing the top-earning career, according to the study.
Balancing motherhood and work commitments is the biggest challenge faced by female doctors with children and causes some to change their career pathways, the researchers from St James's Hospital and the School of Medicine in University College Cork found.
The revealing interviews with 25 doctors pursuing a career in hospital medicine showed:
• Some admitted acting "masculine" so as not to invite discrimination.
• One-third faced bias from patients.
• Some doctors spoke of subtle questions being asked at interviews about family plans.
• Others suffered discrimination from male junior doctors and from nurses.
The study, to be published in the 'Irish Medical Journal', found most of the doctors interviewed who had children were dissatisfied with their training experiences and felt expectations placed on them were unrealistic.
They spoke of making sacrifices to deliver at work and as a result they felt their children had suffered.
Older mothers expressed bitter regrets and three had dissuaded their daughters from pursuing a career in hospital medicine.
There were much fewer women training in some specialties such as anaesthesia, emergency medicine, obstetrics, paediatrics, pathology and surgery. They were least likely to be training in surgery and were most likely to be found working in psychiatry.
The authors pointed out that medicine was once a male-dominated profession reflecting the male majority in medical schools.
"Subsequently, an increase in female undergraduate entry has led to an even gender balance or slight female dominance in medical schools.
"Decades later, the effects of this changing demographic at undergraduate level should be evidenced at senior clinical and academic levels. This has not happened, fuelling speculation about possible barriers and discrimination."
None of the women interviewed wanted special treatment because they were female and they reacted strongly when this was suggested.
The consensus was that women should be employed on merit.
"Perhaps in order to survive and progress they have learnt to accept practices and behaviours which they may initially have rejected," said the authors.