Although cardiologists are generally satisfied with their careers, disparities between men and women point to ongoing concerns about family life, equal pay and barriers to success, according to a new survey.
For instance, female heart doctors are less likely to report career advancement and more likely to report discrimination in the workplace.
Women account for only about 13 percent of cardiologists, compared to 18 percent of surgeons, 30 percent of oncologists and hematologists, 35 percent of internists and 50 percent of obstetricians and gynecologists.
"We already know that cardiology is a field that not enough women enter," said senior study author Claire Duvernoy of the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. Duvernoy chairs the American College of Cardiology Women in Cardiology Council, which has conducted the survey every 10 years since 1996.
"We found that many differences between men and women continue and have not really gone away to any substantial degree," she told Reuters Health. "If there's still a perception that having both a career in cardiology and a family is hard for women, we need to find ways to change that."
The cardiologists who completed the survey - 964 women and 1,349 men - answered questions about demographics, career choices, career satisfaction, and professional and personal barriers to success.
Overall, 88 percent of women and 90 percent of men reported moderate to high satisfaction. Similarly, about 60 percent of both men and women were satisfied with their financial compensation.
In the past 20 years, the researchers note, the percentage of women reporting discrimination has dropped from 71 percent to 65 percent.
Still, however, women are less likely to report advancement compared to their peers. Almost two-thirds of the women reported workplace discrimination, which is three times more than men and more likely due to gender and parenting. Men were more likely to report racial and religious discrimination.
Women are still less likely to marry and have children than men and more likely to require childcare help and interrupt their medical training, typically for childbirth, the survey showed.
"The (American College of Cardiology) as a whole is having a conversation now about ways to make this career more attractive," Duvernoy said. "The conversation needs to be had about how to level the playing field."
Although women are still more likely to say family duties hinder their professional work, the survey showed a substantial shift in how men experience family responsibilities. Compared to 20 years ago, they are more likely now to say family negatively affects their careers, which could mean they're taking on more family duties, the study authors wrote in the Journal of the Amerian College of Cardiology.
"Our workforce is aging, and if we don't increase the breadth of our pool, we're not going to fill that demand," Duvernoy said. "We need more women and underrepresented minorities to take care of the growing number of patients with heart disease in the next 10-20 years."
As for why non-doctors should care about these issues, "Personal lives spill over into the type of care provided," said Anupam Jena, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved with this research. In a study released in mid-December, Jena and colleagues found that patients treated by female doctors have better health outcomes than male doctors.
"If women have better patient outcomes but are paid less and discriminated against more, what does that say about the efficiency of our physician workforce?" he told Reuters Health. "We should be giving incentives to encourage women to enter cardiology, and we aren't doing so."