Exploring gender differences in the working lives of UK hospital consultants

J R Soc Med. 2015 May;108(5):184-91. doi: 10.1177/0141076814558523. Epub 2015 Jan 7.


Objective: Internationally, increasing numbers of women are practising medicine. Gender differences in doctors' working hours, specialty choices and communication styles are well documented, but studies often neglect contextual factors such as the role of socialised gender expectations on behaviours in the workplace and the medical profession. These may be important as recent studies have reported gender differences in doctors' activity rates that cannot be explained by specialty or contracted hours, suggesting other sources of variation. This study sought to explore the working lives of hospital doctors and how their work is negotiated according to gender and context.

Design: Gender differences in the day-to-day work of hospital specialists (consultants) in the NHS were investigated using a qualitative approach, including observation and interview methods. Data were analysed inductively using qualitative observation and interview methods.

Setting: Two NHS hospital trusts in England.

Participants: Data were collected from 13 participants working in a variety of specialties and in a range of clinical and non-clinical settings.

Main outcome measures: Various behaviours, attitudes and experiences were explored, such as doctor-patient communication, interactions with colleagues and workload.

Results: Influences at both individual and situational levels, appear to affect differentially the work of male and female doctors. Female consultants described awareness of the impact of behaviours on relationships with colleagues, and their interactions appeared to be more carefully performed. Nurses and other colleagues tend to demonstrate less cooperation with female consultants. Gender differences also exist in patient communication, feelings of work-family conflict and barriers to career progression.

Conclusions: These variations in hospital consultants' work may have implications for both the quantity and quality of care provided by male and female consultants. This is timely and of importance to the medical workforce as the gender composition approaches parity.

Keywords: Communication; Hospitals; Interpersonal Relations; Physician Gender; Qualitative Research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Communication*
  • Consultants*
  • England
  • Female
  • Hospital Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians*
  • Specialization
  • State Medicine
  • Women
  • Work*
  • Workforce
  • Workload