Objectives: To assess the existence and extent of employment-related problems facing female family practitioners in the context of a rapidly growing number of female doctors in South Africa.
Subjects and methods: A descriptive survey was conducted using bilingual questionnaires. These were posted to all 280 female family practitioners in private practice in the Western Cape.
Results: Of the 280 questionnaires posted 169 were returned, but 45 of these were missampled. A response rate of 53% was obtained. The largest age category was 30-39 years. Of those not in solo practice, 68 (75%) were able to negotiate the terms of their working hours, 13 (19%) negotiated sick leave on commencing work, and only half had paid leave. Vacation leave was negotiated by 34 (50%), while only 6 (9%) discussed maternity leave with employers or colleagues. Of the 124 practices included in the survey, 6 (5%) had formal arrangements to cope with maternity leave. One hundred and seven respondents (86%) felt there was a need for maternity leave guidelines in the private sector in South Africa. Regarding practice-related problems, 33 female family practitioners (27%) reported some incidents of sexual harassment by patients. Despite these constraints, 88 respondents (71%) planned to continue working in this field.
Conclusion: Definite obstacles exist in private family practice with regard to working conditions, in particular the lack of national regulations regarding maternity leave and the absence of legislation on pregnancy discrimination. This has important implications for the inclusion of female doctors in group practices and managed health care organisations--private primary health care of the present and future!