Patricia Canedo, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Medical Protection, introduces Medical Protection's new campaign which aims at supporting doctors and healthcare professionals through menopause.
With menopause affecting up to half of us – 3.905 billion across the world and menopausal women being the fastest growing demographic group in the global workforce, we believe it is crucial to support doctors going through the menopause so that they can continue to practise for longer.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) annual report from March 2020 reveals that 79.2% of the healthcare workforce are female. The Medical Council of Ireland annual report of 2020 shows that 44% of the workforce are female, and for the first time, there were 5% more female than male doctors in the 20-35 age group. However, there is a steep decline in the number of female doctors from 46 years of age, with an even more worrying disparity after 56 years of age. While there may be many reasons for this, the menopause could be one of them.
Through our “Supporting doctors through menopause” campaign, Medical Protection surveyed members to understand if their wellbeing and career were affected by the menopause, and what support was available to them. The results are concerning, and have led us to make a range of policy recommendations with the aim of supporting female doctors struggling with menopause symptoms. We are calling for better training and education around the menopause and its symptoms for managers and senior leaders, and asking healthcare organisations to consider flexible working arrangements to support female doctors to stay in the workforce for longer.
Raising awareness of menopause and its symptoms
Each person may have different experiences and symptoms of the menopause. However, according to the UK’s Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), nearly 3 out of 4 menopausal women experience symptoms, with one in four experiencing serious symptoms.
Symptoms can be both mental and physical in nature. Some of the most common physical symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, heavy periods (menorrhagia) or a change to the menstrual cycle; but also, migraines and other headaches are frequently reported, as well as joint and muscle pain, heart palpitations, urinary incontinence. Mental health symptoms reported include anxiety, mood swings as well as paranoia, panic attacks and depression. Other reported symptoms include fatigue, poor concentration, brain fog, dizziness and light-headedness, insomnia, low activity levels, and losses of confidence, self-esteem, and enthusiasm.
These symptoms can have a profound effect on a person’s work performance – resulting in decreased engagement with work and lower job satisfaction, reduced commitment to their employer, higher sickness absence and an increased desire to leave work altogether. The UK’s Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) stated that 25% of women say they have considered leaving their job, and 1 in 10 do end up quitting.
We wanted to find out from members about their experiences of the menopause in the workplace, in order to understand what support and policies could be implemented to avoid highly skilled, professional doctors leaving the workforce.
What our members have told us
In September 2022, we surveyed our members in Ireland and the UK to find out their experiences in dealing with the menopause – whether having experienced symptoms themselves, treating patients, or interacting with colleagues who may be struggling with symptoms. The survey obtained over 600 responses – 354 of which were from members in Ireland.
Our survey found that 58% of female doctors in Ireland, who are experiencing or have experienced menopause, agreed that they have gone into work while being impacted by the symptoms.
The survey also revealed that out of female doctors who experience or have experienced menopause:
- only 5% feel supported by their employer/workplace
- less than 1% feel supported by their line manager
- 27% feel supported by colleagues
We asked whether members had considered any work adjustments as a result of the menopause and almost 1 in 5 (19%) said they have considered early retirement due to menopause symptoms and the impact on their wellbeing.
We have used the results of this survey to also inform our policy recommendations which include: all healthcare organisations to make reasonable workplace adjustments, better training for senior leaders and managers on the topic so they can support all staff, and a call on healthcare professionals to seek support and professional advice if struggling with symptoms.
Medical Protection has a role to play
As a mutual organisation, it is vital that we listen to and care for members – 52% of whom are female. We provide members with advice and support, and we campaign on behalf of members to promote reforms that would make a positive difference to their wellbeing and careers. The results of our survey on the menopause strongly suggest that more needs to be done to support those struggling with menopause symptoms. We also offer support with our members’ personal wellbeing through an independent, confidential counselling service available 24/7 for those struggling with the menopause.
The above is a summary of our campaign which includes recommendations for healthcare organisations, managers and senior leaders, primary care providers as well as doctors themselves. Our aim is to raise awareness of the menopause and its symptoms by starting the conversation and call for better support for doctors who may be struggling with symptoms. You can read our full list of recommendations here.
If you wish to support our campaign, you can retweet the Medical Protection tweets or write your own linking to the website for the campaign or the press release which is available here.