Women Psychiatrists in India: A Reflection of Their Contributions

Article excerpt

Byline: Mamta. Sood, Rakesh. Chadda

The increasing number of women joining psychiatry is a relatively new phenomenon in the field of medicine. Keeping with the trends world over, the number of women psychiatrists in India has been on the rise over the last two to three decades. The authors searched various volumes of the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, recent membership directories of the Indian Psychiatric Society, website of the Medical Council of India and personal communications for contributions of the women psychiatrists in India. Women psychiatrists have a number of contributions to their credit in India. They have played important roles in the affairs of national professional organizations like the Indian Psychiatric Society and have contributed to the psychiatry education and research. However, they also suffer limitations because of the absence of adequate institutional support and policies looking into their specific needs.

Introduction

There has been a significant increase in the number of women doctors joining psychiatry in India in the last two to three decades. Until early 1980s, their number could be counted in single digit. Historically, the discipline of psychiatry has often been considered to be associated with unpredictable and violent patients, and had a number of misconceptions attached to it; trends are changing now. Reasons for psychiatry becoming a preferred career choice for women doctors can be traced to multiple factors. Psychiatry has gradually shifted out of the high walls of the mental hospitals to the general hospital and community settings and is gaining more acceptability and respect in the society. The medical profession is also synonymous with long years of training followed by long hours at work almost every day. Over and above this, women doctors have to juggle career and family responsibilities as domestic and child related duties have largely remained with them despite changing roles. The crucial career-intensive years in professional life (residency and early years as junior faculty) coincide with the equally crucial period (marriage, childbearing and child rearing) in the personal life. A career in psychiatry allows doing justice to multiple roles in a better way than the other busy clinical specialties like gynecology and obstetrics, pediatrics, internal medicine, cardiology or surgical disciplines, because of the possibility of predictable working hours, less emergencies, flexible working schedules and greater opportunities to interact with patients. [sup][1]

The increasing trends of psychiatry as a specialty choice for women doctors in India have remained in tandem with trends world over, albeit late by about a decade. For example, in the USA, psychiatry has the fourth highest number of women specialists and 40-45% of first-year residents in psychiatry are women. [sup][2] In the UK and Ireland, women form 45-48% of the specialist trainees. [sup][3] In Canada, the percentage of women psychiatric residents increased from 23.5% to 43.4% over a period of 10 years from 1970s to 1980s. [sup][4]

In contrast to the high income countries where various issues related to women psychiatrists like their numbers, needs and concerns, defining characteristics and reasons for their lagging behind men have been researched and debated, there is virtual lack of data about the issues related to women psychiatrists in India. [sup][5] Research has documented that their working styles have been noted to be different from their male colleagues in some aspects. Many women psychiatrists are noted to be more empathic in approach. Their patients report better satisfaction levels as they are more likely to engage patients as active partners in the care by adopting a democratic style of communication. They spend a significantly greater proportion of time on preventive services and counseling, compared to their male colleagues. [sup][6] As a group, they lag behind their men colleagues in attaining positions of authority and leadership in academics, professional organizations, and medical institutions. …