Work-life balance worst for women in cardiology, the least ‘female friendly’ speciality

Female cardiologists have a poor work-life balance compared to other specialties and are more likely to perceive a cardiology career as incompatible with family life, a study has found.

Among the survey findings from 452 women in medicine in Australia and New Zealand, those in cardiology worked more hours per week (median 50 vs 40 hours) compared with non-cardiology specialties such as paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, internal medicine and primary care. They were also more likely to be on call more than once per week (33% vs 12%), and only 10 out of 54 women in cardiology (19%) agreed their specialty was “female-friendly” versus 267 out of 358 (75%) of women doctors in  other specialties.

Women in cardiology were less likely to agree that they led a balanced life (33% vs 51%) or that their specialty was family friendly (20% vs 63%) compared to other specialties

However, women in cardiology were more likely to earn an annual income over $300,000 (35% vs 10%).

“While the majority of female doctors felt that their work interfered with their home and family life, women in cardiology were significantly less likely to feel they had a balanced life,” the report authors noted.

“A key contributor to the interference of work with home and family life was in a lack of flexibility in working hours, reported by 63% of respondents.”

The report authors said women were already underrepresented in cardiology and the study findings of it being a family- and -female unfriendly speciality suggested this was unlikely to change in the next few years.

Women currently account for less than 15% of cardiologists and only 21-22% of cardiology trainees, despite having achieved gender equality in medical graduates and eclipsing male trainees in “family-friendly” specialties such as paediatrics and obstetrics/gynaecology, they observed.


Co-author Associate Professor Sarah Zaman, whose subspeciality of interventional cardiology has a female participation rate of just 4.8%, said the research presented the first hard evidence as to why women do not pursue cardiology as a career.

“This survey objectively shows that there is very poor work-life balance, there’s lots of on-call, lots of hours worked. And it shows that people within the specialty, women particularly, see it as not being female-friendly or family friendly,” she told the limbic.

“So, of course, you are going to deter a large cohort of people from entering the specialty, and not just women.”

“I think nowadays it is well recognised that better doctors are made by having better work-life balance. When you go to the other extreme – lots of on-call and poor work-life balance – you have higher levels of burn-out and disillusionment, and it’s going to make poorer quality doctors.”

Dr Zaman, an academic interventional cardiologist at Sydney University and Westmead Hospital, said more flexibility for trainees during their three- to five-year regimen could be the key to addressing the cardiology gender imbalance.

“The training involves long hours, lots of on-call, lots of weekends.  It’s a highly competitive specialty and if you want to get ahead in your career, there’s also research, PhDs, conferences,” she said.

“You are basically sacrificing a lot in order in that time of your life to pursue the specialty.”

“By the time you are doing cardiology training, you are in your early 30s for instance.  If you are a man and you have the support of a partner who looks after your kids, it’s much easier.  If you are a woman, unfortunately it coincides with the time you want to have children.”

“Of course that’s going to deter highly qualified people. They aren’t going to pursue it if they can’t see they can have some sort of a life.”

Dr Zaman added that there was a need for more women to enter the cardiology to improve the breadth of research and focus on outcomes for women patients.

The findings are published in Open Heart journal.

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