New organisation to boost female doctors, effect industry change
THEY slave away at medical school for years but soon after qualifying, some female doctors just leave the profession.
As the disillusioned doctors choose other careers, far away from hospital wards and surgeries, their male counterparts continue to soar and go on to be world-renowned specialists.
It is for this reason that female doctors have come together to form the Medical Women Association of South Africa (Mwasa) to tackle challenges faced by woman doctors and also to remove stumbling blocks that make it difficult for them to reach the same heights as their male counterparts.
The organisation was launched last weekend.
According to one of the founders, Dr Mpho Pooe, they want to champion the rights of women, recruit more female doctors, increase specialist female doctors, curb teenage pregnancy and tackle diseases such HIV/Aids, cervical and breast cancer.
Pooe said the SA Medical Association (Sama) was focused more on labour and health issues, hence there was a need for an organisation such as Mwasa.
Pooe said Mwasa did not only provide intellectual support in the struggle to improve health care in the country, but also aimed to support girls by helping to provide them with tertiary funding and mentoring, and to support those who wished to become doctors.
Pooe, a specialist gynaecologist, said their biggest worry was the fact that many females left the profession due to the lack of support in the industry, something that resulted in few woman doctors becoming specialists.
“There is no academic support for female doctors and they leave because of frustrations in the profession.
“For example, if you want to specialise and you fall pregnant, you don’t have labour rights. You can be on duty for 24 hours and some doctors even go into labour on duty… that’s how bad it is.”
Dr Gwen Ramokgopa, also a founding member, said they realised that many women were practising as doctors and needed to be better organised to influence health policy, shaping the health system and ensuring the advancement of medical science.
Ramokgopa said things had not changed much for women in medicine now, compared to when she had just qualified as a doctor, where there were no maternity leave benefits, no overtime provisions, and the tools of the trade were inadequate. She said medicine was historically male-dominated and had not factored in the needs of woman doctors, resulting in a higher rate of women abandoning the profession than men.
“The association will also be a platform to support woman doctors in advancing their careers, mentoring and accessing opportunities for development.
“It will also network with other similar organisations nationally and internationally to tackle the barriers that woman doctors face.”
Dr Mathabo Hlahane, the Mwasa Free State co-ordinator, said the main challenges today’s female doctors faced, were from undergraduate level and beyond.
Hlahane said the current working conditions and societal pressures also resulted in woman doctors leaving the profession.
“For instance, in the public sector, one can have a 32-hour shift in a week meaning that one is extremely tired returning from work and this compromises quality of life.
“Another example is when a female doctor is on call. In some institutions, there is only one on-call room and it is shared between males and females. Privacy becomes a serious issue.
“I believe that if the working conditions for female doctors are improved, we will have more female doctors staying in the profession and progressing academically.”
Female doctors looking for more information on Mwasa can visit www.mwasa.co.za.
BACKING: The Medical Women Association of South Africa aims to support female doctors.