The Second Shift in Academic Medicine

Study points to unequal home patterns and lack of flexible work options as possible explanation for the departure of women from medical school faculties.
January 2, 2009

Medical school enrollments -- once largely male -- have an even gender split these days. But the senior faculty ranks have failed to achieve gender balance, in part because female medical school professors are more likely than their male counterparts to leave academe.

Research published in the new issue of Academic Medicine suggests that part of the problem may be unequal demands on female professors at home, combined with a lack of flexibility about the idea of part-time careers in academic medicine.

The study is based on a survey of all 615 full-time faculty members at the University of Minnesota Medical School, 57 percent of whom responded. Women and men reported equal levels of productivity by various measures and also of hours worked on the job.

But off the job, differences were notable. The full-time female professors (in a profession where full time rarely fits into 40 hour weeks) reported that they performed an average of 31 hours a week in family and household duties, while the men reported an average of 19 hours.

The women were less likely than the men to be married or have children. But of the male and female professors who are married, the men were much more likely than women to have spouses who worked at jobs less than full time.

Family Characteristics of Minnesota Medical Faculty, by Gender

Characteristic Women Men
No partner or spouse 19% 5%
Partner/spouse employed full time 70% 36%
Partner/spouse employed part time 5% 26%
Partner/spouse not employed 7% 33%
No children 16% 9%

Given the demographics and division of household labor, it may not be surprising that more women than men (33 percent vs. 14 percent) were interested in creating a part-time tenure track. And while women on average took longer parental leaves than did men (8 weeks vs. 2 weeks), 60 percent of women thought the length of their leaves was not adequate for their families, compared to 50 percent for men.

On a series of work/family balance issues, women were more likely than men to cite policies or practices as obstacles to their career success or satisfaction.

Obstacles Cited by Men and Women on the Faculty

Policy/Practice Cited Women Men
Lack of part-time promotion track 22% 3%
Meetings after 5 p.m. or on weekends 38% 18%
Lack of on-site child care 23% 11%
Lack of emergency child care 30% 16%
Inadequate formal parental leave policy 19% 5%

The same issue of Academic Medicine includes a commentary urging medical schools to find ways to create meaningful part-time opportunities for faculty members.


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