A career in medicine means jumping out of bed in the middle of the
night for emergencies, making rounds after hours, treating cranky
patients, and dodging malpractice suits. It's a stressful occupation.
What's not so easy to tell is what stresses physicians the most.
Psychologist Edith B. Gross, Ph.D., now knows. It all depends on
gender. Male and female physicians perceive different things as
In matters such as how to diagnose and treat, the sexes are
remarkably similar; they go through the same medical school grind and job
training. But with stress, the differing patterns of male/female
socialization show their weary faces.
A professor at Beaver College, Gross found that medicine's
time-demands bug women docs the most. Runner-up is career-family
conflict. Men mainly struggle with the doctor-patient
Around 51.5 percent of male doctors found patient relationships
stressful, while only 17.9 percent of women docs did. On the other hand,
43.6 percent of women felt stress in juggling career and family, compared
with a measly 6.1 percent of men.
Medicine is one of the most demanding professions in terms of time,
and though it squeezes both men and women, it affects women more because
they carry more domestic responsibilities. "The house and kids are
ultimately the responsibility of the mom," Gross explains. As it turns
out, women physicians usually marry men physicians, while male docs
usually marry women with less demanding careers and more time.
Also, as a minority in medicine, women feel pressure to perform
well, while simultaneously trying to be perfect wife and mother. Many
make sacrifices, usually in their career; female physicians work
part-time more often, and pick less demanding specialties.
Relationships with patients rack men's nerves the most, especially
lately, as power shifts away from physicians. Patients no longer see them
as all-knowing. "Male doctors feel like their expertise is being
questioned," says Gross. Women never even define the doctor-patient
relationship as a power thing.
The real kicker for male docs is the threat of malpractice suits.
They get sued more often than women docs, which makes doctor-patient
relations tense. When women do feel stress in patient interaction, it's
because it's emotionally draining.