Women Make Better Doctors Than Men

A gender divide in a field that was once overwhelmingly male

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At least that’s what a recent study of diabetic patients found. But the boys shouldn’t pack up their doctor kits yet.

In a new report released by the University of Montreal, investigators found that women outperformed men on certain metrics of patient care.

Valérie Martel, a masters candidate in the school’s department of health administration, Régis Blais, a professor in the department, and Roxanne Borges Da Silva, a professor of nursing, recruited 870 Quebec-based physicians—half men, half women—treating people with diabetes. A chronic condition, diabetes can be controlled only via constant vigilance to maintain proper blood sugar levels; that requires periodic visits to the doctor, and good compliance with taking a range of medications. To compare if a doctor’s gender affected patient behavior, the researchers evaluated  physicians on three parts of standard diabetes treatment: prescribing periodic eye exams, scheduling frequent physical check-ups and keeping their patients on some mix of three different medications, such as statins to control cholesterol. On all of the metrics, the female doctors beat the males.

“Women had significantly higher scores in terms of compliance with practice guidelines,” said Martel in a statement that accompanied the release of the study. “They were more likely than men to prescribe recommended medications and to plan required examinations.”

Why? It’s possible the female doctors were simply more willing to devote more time to their patients  The men tended to cycle their patients though quickly—as evidenced by fact that the male doctors performed, on average, 1,000 more basic treatment procedures per year than the women. But that seeming efficiency may be self-defeating: the investigators worry that the quicker the turnover in any one doctor’s office, the likelier a patient is to return to have questions answered or treatment details explained that weren’t addressed in the initial appointment.

The Montreal investigators plan to broaden their findings, looking at three other manageable conditions next: hypertension, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to see if the gender-based difference applies to other conditions as well. But even if they find the same gender gap there, they believe there’s hope for improvement. The younger the doctors in their study were, the narrower the divide between the sexes, suggesting that hurry-up male doctors are aging out of the system, being replaced by a newer, gentler generation.