There has been a major increase in the number of women recruited to the medical workforce in recent years to the extent that now 50% of entrants to medical schools are women. However, many of them cease to practise hospital medicine as the demands of home and family become incompatible with their work. Furthermore, it is not clear to what extent those who are retained within the NHS workforce are represented across the acute medical specialties, in academic medicine and in positions of seniority or whether they receive the same opportunities for career progression as their male colleagues.
At a time when there are too few doctors to meet the needs of the government's 10-year plan for the health service and a reduction in junior doctors' hours it is important that the services of highly (and expensively) trained women doctors be retained. A working party was therefore convened by the Federation of the Royal Colleges of Physicians in 2000, chaired by Professor Carol Black, to examine the data on the overall trends and the career choices of women in hospital medicine and to make recommendations for a framework whereby women can be retained in the medical workforce and progress in their careers.
Recommendations are made for more flexible working arrangements and for an increase in part-time opportunities and shared consultant appointments, taking full account of the requirements of the posts they might occupy and the need for continuing medical education for those who decide to work part time. An innovative mentoring scheme is suggested for those interested in a career in academic medicine but could be extended further.
Many of the recommendations in this report could apply equally to men as well as women as the change towards more flexible working patterns increases.