Gender and Physician Specialization and Practice Settings in Ecuador

A Qualitative Study

Published in: BMC Health Services Research, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on December 08, 2016

by Rita Bedoya-Vaca, Kathryn Pitkin Derose, Natalia Romero-Sandoval

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Research Questions

  1. To what extent does gender influence the decision to study medicine and the choice of medical specialty?
  2. To what extent does gender influence professional practice of medicine, including whether to practice in the public or private sector?

BACKGROUND: The increasing proportion of women in the medical profession is a worldwide phenomenon often called the "feminization of medicine." However, it is understudied in low and middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America. METHODS: Using a qualitative, descriptive design, we explored the influence of gender and other factors on physician career decision-making and experiences, including medical specialty and public vs. private practice, in Quito, Ecuador, through in-depth, semi-structured interviews (n = 31) in 2014. Theoretical sampling was used to obtain approximately equal numbers of women and men and a range of medical specialties and practice settings; data saturation was used to determine sample size. Transcripts were analyzed using content coding procedures to mark quotations related to major topics and sub-themes included in the interview guide and inductive (grounded theory) approaches to identify new themes and sub-themes. RESULTS: Gendered norms regarding women's primary role in childrearing, along with social class or economic resources, strongly influenced physicians' choice of medical specialty and practice settings. Women physicians, especially surgeons, have had to "pay the price" socially, often remaining single and/or childless, or ending up divorced; in addition, both women and men face limited opportunities for medical residency training in Ecuador, thus specialty is determined by economic resources and "opportunity." Women physicians often experience discrimination from patients, nurses, and, sometimes, other physicians, which has limited their mobility and ability to operate independently and in the private sector. The public sector, where patients cannot "choose" their doctors, offers women more opportunities for professional success and advancement, and the regular hours enable organizing work and family responsibilities. However, the public sector has generally much less flexibility than the private sector, making it more difficult to balance work and family responsibilities. CONCLUSION: Women may outnumber men in medicine in Ecuador and across many parts of the world, but a number of structural issues-economic, social, and cultural-must be addressed for women to establish themselves in a wide variety of medical specialties and practice settings and for countries to realize the benefit of the investments being made to train and employ them.

Key Findings

  • Women doctors outnumber men in Ecuador, and gendered norms do not seem to dissuade women from pursuing a career in medicine.
  • Gendered norms regarding women's primary role in childrearing, along with social class or economic resources, strongly influenced physicians' choice of medical specialty and practice settings.
  • Women physicians—especially surgeons—often pay a social price for their pursuing a medical career in the form of remaining single and/or childless, or getting divorced.
  • Opportunities for medical residency training are limited in Ecuador, thus only those with social and economic resources may have the opportunity to pursue specialized training abroad.
  • Women physicians often experience discrimination from patients, nurses, and, sometimes, other physicians, which limits their mobility and ability to operate in the private sector.
  • Working within the public sector offers women more opportunities for professional success and advancement, as well as regular hours, but with less flexible hours than the private sector.

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