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Women’s contribution to general practice: Medusa or Mother Teresa?

Lyn E Clearihan and Jan Y Coles
Med J Aust 2008; 189 (2): 122-124.
Published online: 21 July 2008

If the female perspective is missing, how can true feminisation of the medical workforce occur?

Much has been written about the feminisation of the medical workforce. However, this usually refers to the increasing numbers of women entering medicine, rather than to an adaptation of medical theories and practices to incorporate a female perspective. Women and men work differently, and these behavioural differences are attracting attention as the workforce debate brings women’s contribution to medicine, and their place in general practice,1 under an intense spotlight. A number of studies have demonstrated the gendered nature of communication and practice styles,2-6 health care delivery7 and patient care.8 Some have raised the question of whether female work styles contribute to the workforce problem9 — work styles that are often assumed to represent inherent female behavioural attributes.10 The tension generated by increasing numbers of women within a predominantly male-driven medical ethos can be examined using two conceptual models — the “Medusa effect” and the “Mother Teresa effect”. These are used to demonstrate how gender-based stereotyping, plus entrenched assumptions and concepts about gendered behaviour, may be affecting the interpretation of practice styles11 and underpinning the workforce debate. We argue that there is an urgent need to re-think the gendered nature of medicine in order to allow us to explore innovative solutions to the problem of the current workforce shortage in general practice.

  • Lyn E Clearihan1
  • Jan Y Coles2

  • Department of General Practice, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC.


Competing interests:

None identified.

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