Objectives: to determine the impact of increasing numbers of women in medicine on the physician work force in Australia, Canada, England, and the United States.
Methods: We collected data on physician work force issues from professional organizations and government agencies in each of the 4 nations.
Results: Women now make up nearly half of all medical students in all 4 countries and 20% to 30% of all practicing physicians. Most are concentrated in primary care specialties and obstetrics/gynecology and are underrepresented in surgical training programs. Women physicians practice largely in urban settings and work 7 to 11 fewer hours per week than men do, for lower pay. Twenty percent to 50% of women primary care physicians are in part-time practice.
Conclusions: Work force planners should anticipate larger decreases in physician full-time equivalencies than previously expected because of the increased number of women in practice and their tendency to work fewer hours and to be in part-time practice, especially in primary care. Responses to these changes vary among the 4 countries. Canada has developed a detailed database of work/family issues; England has pioneered flexible training schemes and reentry training programs; and Australia has joined consumers, physicians, and educators in improving training opportunities and the work climate for women. Improved access to surgical and subspecialty fields, training and practice settings that provide balance for work/family issues, and improved recruitment and retention of women physicians in rural areas will increase the contributions of women physicians.