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Are Women Better Doctors Than Men?

A recent study shows that female physicians may achieve better patient outcomes than male physicians.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
January 5, 2017
Episode #230

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At the risk of disturbing some of the most highly competent male colleagues for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration, there’s a rather interesting study that was recently published in the JAMA Internal Medicine within the last one month that has gained some media attention. It suggests that female physicians may be more effective physicians than males.

Prior studies have shown that women physicians simply practice differently compared to men.  Why is that? We don't quite understand the answer to this essential question. The answer could really help shape the future of how our medical care is received, according to the findings of this study. What the authors report, using previous evidence, is that female doctors tend to follow medical guidelines more closely, provide more preventative care counseling, address the emotional and social aspects of patient health, be more effective communicators, and may even perform better on standardized tests.

But so what? Different doesn’t necessarily mean better. Until now, there was no solid evidence to determine if this made any difference in the long run (i.e., improved patient outcomes, which is what truly matters in the end).

Can women really be better doctors than men? Should you speed dial your insurance company in order to change doctors? What does it all mean?

Being primary care doctors, my husband and I tend to see the same patients in the clinical setting. As disheartening as it may be, I cannot count the number of times (typically when meeting new patients) that question my background and experience:

“So where did you go to medical school?”

“How long have you been practicing?”

“You look so young to be a doctor.”

“It must be rough having kids as a doctor. How do you balance it all?”

Meanwhile, my husband rarely gets questioned. And never once has he been questioned about how he balances family life with work. Mind you, I have completed 11 years of training, have been practicing for 12, and have 3 more years of experience than my husband. And if you do the math, you can calculate my age (but please don’t!).

What happened here? Is there truly a double standard? Let's find out what the study shows. Just like any other new research finding, we need to first dissect the details of the study to determine how it pertains to the rest of us.

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