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GPs report working practices that still favour men

Posted on 29 June 2023

Women GPs are reluctant to take on senior partnership roles due to fears over maternity leave, sickness pay and work life balance, a new study has concluded.

Becoming a GP partner means taking on extra responsibilities, but has benefits including control over the practice and generally higher pay. 

The number of GP partners is falling, and there appears to be a reluctance amongst both men and women to take on these roles.   Women, however, make up 53% of the UK general practitioner workforce, but only 41% of GP partners. This is contributing to a considerable gender pay gap in general practice. 

Researchers at the University of York used interviews, online focus groups and social media data to explore the challenges that GPs face in career progression, exploring differences in men’s and women’s career progress in general practice and their thoughts around partnership roles. 

Additional barriers

Both men and women viewed partnership as likely to be significantly more work, with salaried, locum or private roles offering greater work-life balance - particularly appealing given current workload pressures. 

Other common factors included a perceived lack of training in the business skills needed for partnership roles, concern about whether the partnership model would exist in the future, and a general feeling of being undervalued by the UK government.

Women, though, experienced additional barriers. They reported particular concerns about contracts and the impact of partnership on maternity leave - in particular how they get paid during this period as a business partner - and balancing the needs of work and family.

Part-time work

Attitudes from colleagues towards women who chose part-time work to accommodate childcare was viewed as largely negative, affecting how ‘encouraged’ they felt to apply for more senior roles, particularly those without a role-model to guide them on what was possible with their careers after having a family. 

Women GPs also reported caring for a disproportionate share of female patients and children, and those in partnership roles tended to be given more HR responsibilities compared to male colleagues.

Dr Laura Jefferson, Research Fellow at the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “General practice is one of the preferred career choices amongst women medical students, but even after adjusting for people who work part-time, a 15% gender pay gap exists for GPs - the largest of all medical specialties. 

“Research has suggested this may be partly due to women GPs’ lower likelihood to take on partner roles in practices. Our research has given us in-depth understanding of reasons for this, which we can now learn from to try to encourage more women into partner roles in future.

“It is clear from our study that long-standing challenges of balancing work and caring responsibilities still exert more influence over women doctors’ career choices, though we also found discriminatory or prejudiced attitudes towards women’s preferences that created barriers to their progression and lower confidence in negotiating pay.

“We noted one report, for example, from a female GP who was so grateful for paid maternity leave and flexible working arrangements around childcare that asking for more income was assumed to be a step too far.”

Professor Karen Bloor, from the University’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “There are many concerns around GP partner roles that exist regardless of gender, many of which need to be dealt with at a national level as well as within practices, if we are to maintain the partnership model of general practice into the future.”