TOKYO -- A 37-year-old female doctor working at a national hospital in the Kanto region recalls that a doctor at her university's medical department told her, "Women are not needed at the department of surgery" when she was a medical student. Nearly 40 percent of her class was made up of women, but students invited to work at the university medical department were always men.
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The women became a resident at a university hospital in Tokyo and advanced to the surgery department of her choice but eight of the women who joined the hospital the same year have left due to tough working conditions and only two remain.
The woman physician gave birth to a son when she was 34. It was the first case of childbirth by a doctor working in the hospital's surgery-related departments. When she was working short shifts after the delivery, a colleague asked her: "How long are you going to work like this?" Her husband, a 37-year-old company employee, helps her in taking care of the child such as by taking him to and from a day care center, but people around her in the workplace don't show understanding about her circumstances, which is tough.
The woman is expecting to deliver her second baby this fall, but confided, "I would have avoided pregnancy if our workforce had shrunk." The surgeon added, "Many of us enrolled in the med school hoping to be hardworking doctors, but many women have left hospitals. I want an environment where you can deliver and raise children without hassles."
Another female physician in Tokyo, 42, works in a surgery-related department while raising three daughters in elementary and junior high schools. Overnight work shifts and emergency calls were high hurdles to keep both her job and family, she recalled.
When she is on an overnight shift, she cannot see her children from the morning till the evening of the next day, for a full day and a half. She even took her youngest daughter when she was 2 to her work during the night when she was on call as the girl hugged the mother and would not let her go. The doctor worked very hard because, "I didn't want others to think I was useless because I had children," but she later asked not to be posted on overnight shifts.
Working conditions for female doctors are tough, but the physician wants her colleagues to carry on while raising children. "That experience gives you depth and makes it easier to win the trust of patients and their families," she explains.
The government is supporting female physicians as their active participation in medical care is "indispensable" by promoting programs such as team medicine and a flexible working style. In its revision this fiscal year of benefits for medical treatment, the government decided to pay the same amount for X-ray imagery diagnosis and pathological analysis when they are carried out at home as those done at hospitals.
Yoshiko Maeda, who heads the Japan Medical Women's Association, a female physicians' group, said, "The working environment should be changed by introducing overnight shift exemptions and flexible application of shorter working hours so that women doctors can keep working. Reducing their numbers, like Tokyo Medical University did, should not be an option."
(Japanese original by Kaori Gomi and Go Kumagai, Medical Welfare News Department)
This is the second part of a series.