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Aichi tries to hang on to female doctors

Chunichi Shimbun

Starting from April, female doctors with children at Fujita Health University Hospital in Toyoake, Aichi Prefecture, who need shorter working hours to care for their young will have the option of working 20 or 30 hours a week, instead of the regular 40 hours.

The doctors “felt that it was more important to continue a career they liked” than to quit, even though their salaries will be reduced by half.

The hospital is among others in the Tokai region that have introduced measures this spring to help female doctors balance their work and child-rearing. The steps include shorter working hours and helping former female doctors, many of whom quit their jobs in their 30s when they get married and have children, to resume working again.

“This is one of the reasons why we haven’t been able to meet the demand for more doctors. I hope that female physicians who have previously found it hard to continue their career will make use of these efforts,” an official at the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

Fujita Health University Hospital has also set up a new salon for female doctors to interact and consult with one another.

Four years ago, the facility allowed female physicians with children to cut their working hours by 1.5 hours per day, but still required that they work from Monday to Saturday. And as they regularly can’t leave work on time, many end up resigning.

The new system gives them the freedom to create their own work schedule. All they have to do is work for the required number of hours every week. For those who feel it’s easier to work at night, when their children are asleep, they can elect to cover only night shifts.

“I would like the doctors to have a sense of purpose in their family life and career, and to use this opportunity to improve their skills and specialty,” said Yoko Kato, a neurological surgeon at the hospital.

Of the 7,696 people who acquired a medical licence this year, 2,516, or 32.6 percent, were women. A survey conducted by the health ministry revealed that the percentage of female doctors working in hospitals and clinics is at its highest for those aged 29 and below, at 35.9 percent, while their numbers start to decline once they hit 30.

To tackle the issue, the ministry established a division in 2008 to provide job support for female doctors. It also funnels subsidies through local governments to medical organizations that offer consultation services for doctors on child care and working hours, or those that introduce training programs to help them resume their practice.

In fiscal 2012, the ministry provided such subsidies to 36 prefectures, including Aichi and Gifu. The funds cover half the salary of substitute doctors when regular physicians are on leave as well as the salaries of doctors who provide training for those who want to rejoin the profession.

However, the lack of doctors means there are not enough substitute doctors.

Nagoya University Hospital and Aichi Medical University Hospital both started programs in March to help female doctors who quit their jobs to rejoin the workforce.

The program does not consider which school the applicants graduated from or their age. They will first be assigned to perform initial medical examinations for new outpatients who require medical procedures, before gradually making their way back to their specialties.

Some of the women in the program have not practiced medicine for almost 10 years.

“If you consider how long it takes for a medical student to become a full-fledged doctor, these women are ready to instantly rejoin the workforce. Communicating with patients is not a skill that one acquires easily,” said Yoshihisa Hirakawa, deputy director of the Center for Postgraduate Clinical Training and Career Development of the Nagoya hospital.

“As the number of female doctors increases, male physicians have also begun to understand the problems their colleagues are dealing with. We need to think about the working condition for female doctors while at the same time providing them with the support they need in their lives,” he added.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published April 4.