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    Women locum tenens physicians carve out their own niche

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    Jim Shive
    Women represent half of the world's population, but for generations, the feminine gender was a minority among physicians. Those well-drawn historical lines between men and women, however, have dramatically blurred over the past 30 years. These days, it is as commonplace to visit a female physician as it is to be seen by a male doctor. Indeed, the world of medicine is a diverse one.

    But can the same be said about locum tenens? What kind of standing do women physicians hold in this industry? Read on to learn how one company representative and two locum tenens physicians view the differences between the sexes.

    WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, MEN ARE FROM MARS

    The 1970s and 1980s were a time of exciting changes in terms of women entering new professional frontiers. We saw them becoming engineers, scientists, and of course, doctors. Indeed, according to the American Medical Association (AMA), the number of female physicians more than doubled between 1970 and 1980. Since then, though, the gender has made even greater gains. In 2004, the latest figures available, more than one in four physicians was a woman, up from one in 10 in 1980. Industry experts expect that nearly 40% of all doctors will be female by 2010.

    "They are going from being the minority to commanding an equal representation," says Kristi Cadenhead, director of primary care of the West Region for Maxim Physician Resources, located in Dallas, Texas.

    Of course, the increase of female physicians is directly correlated with the greater number of women applying to and graduating from medical school. AMA reports that in the 2004-2005 academic year, half of all enrollments were women, and nearly the same percentage (47%) of females graduated. With statistics like those, it is no wonder that the majority of female physicians come in under 45 years of age.

    Generally speaking, locum tenens physicians fall into three age categories: those just out of residency, those midway through their careers, and those entering semi-retirement. When you look closely at the genders, women display slightly different characteristics. Namely, they fall into the first two groupings far more frequently than the latter.

    "What we typically see are younger women agreeing to opportunities. They range between 30 and 55 years old and are mostly single with few or no dependents," notes Mrs. Cadenhead. "Women are starting to see locum tenens as a great career move."

    That is not to say married women do not provide locum tenens services. "Married physicians value the flexibility this career alternative offers because they do not want to be on duty every day," comments Mrs. Cadenhead. "Instead, they may want to practice 2 weeks on and take 2 weeks off. Also, they mostly prefer to stay closer to home. These women want to be able to go back and forth easily so they can have the best of both their professional and personal worlds.

    "We do not see a lot of women wanting to do locum tenens as they enter semi-retirement, at least not to the same degree as men," she further explains. "I think once women decide to retire, they are looking to do more family-oriented activities. But that could change as time goes on and greater numbers of females enter that stage of their lives."

    For each group of women, locum tenens contracts are the chance to explore various specialties, locations, and practice settings. "More and more women are migrating into specialties, like obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, and radiology," notes Mrs. Cadenhead. "Opposed to general care, they want to expand their exposure to other practice options."

    The research backs this up. AMA reports a notable shift of women moving into specialized areas, especially over the past 10 years. In 2004, 24 specialties boasted 1,000 or more women physicians, with internal medicine, pediatrics, and family practice holding the top three spots respectively. Each of these disciplines more than doubled their numbers over the past decade.

    Still, female locum tenens physicians appear to select smaller, less hectic practice settings than their counterparts. "Male physicians most often request acute care facilities," asserts Mrs. Cadenhead. "What we have noticed with women is that they opt for private solo or group practices or ambulatory centers instead of the busier, larger hospitals.

    "Additionally, women seem to like to return to settings," she continues. "Females typically have exceptional relationship skills, and they like to build rapport with patients in their adoptive communities. That is why I think we see women choose reoccurring contracts."

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