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WBHHS celebrates achievements of female leaders in its workforce

AS the world prepares to commemorate its 46th official International Women’s Day, Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service’s new “top doc” has been reflecting on the rise of women in the medical workforce throughout her own 36-year career in medicine.

Executive Director of Medical Services Dr Jennifer King said while good opportunities for women had existed for some time in studying medicine, it had traditionally been difficult for many women as they tried to juggle pursuing a sustainable medical career with family commitments.

But those difficulties are starting to fade away, as social changes are being reflected in more flexible employment conditions and more progressive attitudes among specialist medical training colleges and employers.

“Medicine has for some time between relatively open to women. In fact, the barriers haven’t really been in medicine or at university. Essentially, if you got the marks, you got in – my medicine class in the early 1980s in Sydney was roughly 50-50, men and women,” Dr King said.

“The limiting factor has often been family – traditionally it’s been very difficult to juggle family and working as a doctor because it can be such a demanding career and the hours aren’t always what most people would consider family friendly.

“But over time, we’ve seen a change in societal roles, more community options, a change in balance with co-parenting and more stay-at-home dads.

“And along with the changes in society, there have been changes within the specialist colleges and within health services as employers.”

That change is reflected by more women becoming leaders in the medical workforce across Wide Bay, where Dr King is supported by three other female directors of medical services who oversee the service’s doctors across the region – Dr Sue Page (Bundaberg), Dr Gayle Williams (Fraser Coast) and Dr Sandra Rattenbury (rural areas).

This means WBHHS’s four most senior medical management roles are all held by women.

Part of their role is to help nurture the junior doctors who start their careers at Wide Bay hospitals, and who are encouraged to stay on for as long as possible to develop their regional medical careers.

This year across Wide Bay, the class of 36 intern doctors is made up of 21 women and 15 men.

Dr King said female doctors of today were much more likely to have a more manageable pathway to balancing their professional and family lives.

“In the past, if a woman had wanted to have a family after she’d become registered as a doctor, she would have to take time out because she had to be the carer,” Dr King said.

“And on her return, if she wanted to be on a specialist training program, she would often have to virtually redo the past year or two of her training and prove herself all over again.

“But the specialist medical training colleges started to recognise that specialist training could be undertaken on a part-time basis, or you could take breaks, or you could job share. And that approach has now been adopted by the majority of the colleges.

“Similarly, employers – hospitals, in most cases – might have once preferred full-time registrars. But health services have also now adapted, and women now have more options open to them to help them and their families balance work and home commitments.”

It’s not just in medicine that WBHHS is committed to gender equity.

Acting Chief Executive Debbie Carroll – who came up through the nursing ranks before taking on health management roles – said the service was a strong supporter of women across all its work streams, with the majority of its staff being female.

WBHHS employs 3,175 women out of a total workforce of 4,145 (or 76.6%), while women also account for five of its nine Executive roles.

“International Women’s Day is a chance for all of us to celebrate and reflect on the achievements of women across our workplace, as well as looking to how we can continue to support women and their careers into the future,” Ms Carroll said.

“Women make a valuable contribution to Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service each and every day, whether it’s by caring for patients, in operational roles that keep our hospitals and services running, or by taking on key professional and leadership positions.

“Our service is committed to inclusiveness – of women, of people from all cultural backgrounds, and of people with disabilities.

“International Women’s Day falls on one day of the year, and it’s important to observe it – but we make our intentions clear by what we do every single day. And we’re really proud that women thrive in our workforce, at all levels and in all disciplines.”

Last updated: 5 March 2020