Figures reveal women outnumber men in general practice in NSW

TAKING OVER: Fifth year medical students Joanna Noakes and Stephanie Smith are a part of a changing guard in general practice where there's now more women than men, for the first time. Photo: Gareth Gardner 270717GGA02
TAKING OVER: Fifth year medical students Joanna Noakes and Stephanie Smith are a part of a changing guard in general practice where there's now more women than men, for the first time. Photo: Gareth Gardner 270717GGA02

WHILE they hold up half the sky, women are also representing more than half of the general practice workforce in the state.

If the figures coming through Tamworth are anything to go by, there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing even more female GPs in the future.

The majority of aspiring medical professionals coming through the University of Newcastle department of rural health are female too, with girls outnumbering guys 18 to 14 in this year’s cohort.

Two students with dreams of becoming GPs weren’t surprised by the figures.

Fifth year medical student Joanna Noakes was excited by the prospect of a more feminised workforce.

“Historically, it hasn’t been that way,” she told The Leader.

“And all of the consultants that I’ve seen that worked in Newcastle and [in Tamworth] are more male and it’s nice that, potentially in the future, the leading consultants might be even … or even overtake.”

But it was no surprise the figure had climbed.

“We’re seeing that here as students, we’re seeing it in the interns above us and the GPs we’ve talked to,” she said. 

Ms Noakes said the opportunity to keep a good work-life balance was probably a big factor in the shifting GP tides.

You get more invested in them and you get hurt when they get hurt.

Medicine student Stephanie Smith

“As a rural GP, I can go into an area such as [obstetrics and gynecology] and not have to go through the extensive training and still have the opportunity to have a family and do a lot things I want out of life, not just my career,” she said.

“I think lifestyle is probably a huge factor, but probably the number one for me is that it encompasses all of the things I’m interested in.”

FAMILY TRADE: Stephanie Smith wants to become a GP like her mum: Photo: Gareth Gardner

FAMILY TRADE: Stephanie Smith wants to become a GP like her mum: Photo: Gareth Gardner

Fellow fifth-year student Stephanie Smith wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps to become a GP, but it’s also getting to work more closely with patients.

“You get to follow through their whole life and you get to see them from basically from birth to almost the end of their lives, dealing with antenatal care up to palliative care,” Ms Smith said.

“You get more invested in them and you get hurt when they get hurt and have more emotional investment in them.”

Medicine is still a male-dominated industry with men accounting for 58 per cent of all practitioners in NSW, according to the Medical Board of Australia.

How much has it changed?

CHANGES: Jenny May was in the minority when she graduated. Photo: Barry Smith

CHANGES: Jenny May was in the minority when she graduated. Photo: Barry Smith

TAMWORTH could be leading the way in terms of women taking up medical careers.

Local GP Jenny May graduated 30 years ago, when women were the minority.

In 2017, female GPs outnumber their male counterparts in NSW.

“I think it’s a societal-wide change, where women are much more proactive in terms of careers,” Dr May said. While general practice has become female-dominated, there are still disparities.

“Some of the surgeries are still looking at 30 per cent women,” she said. Meanwhile, Tamworth is a leading light when it comes to women in health.

“The general manager at our hospital is female, I have the privilege of directing the university department of rural health and our primary health network local lead is female as well,” Dr May said.

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