New or­gan­i­sa­tion to boost fe­male doc­tors, ef­fect in­dus­try change

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - BOTHO MOLOSANKWE

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


BACK­ING: The Med­i­cal Women As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa aims to support fe­male doc­tors.

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