Nurturing the Nurturer: Supporting Female Physicians and Nurses in Menopause

Nurturing the Nurturer: Supporting Female Physicians and Nurses in Menopause

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Menopause Society designated October as World Menopause Month.

Women in Medicine Are Impacted by Menopause

Although there is a lot of discussion about menopause among women in general, there is much less discussion about women in medicine who are going through menopause and the need to support them.

Women at that point in their careers are typically at a peak of their skills, knowledge and experience. But there is little discussion about how menopause may be an unspoken challenge and unsupported in the medical workplace.

A study in the UK has looked into this issue and the findings are striking: The British Medical Association (BMA) found that experienced female doctors, among other things, choose to opt out of the medical profession due to symptoms in menopause and lack of support from management.

A 2020 survey of 2,000 female doctors in the UK found that 90 percent felt their working lives were affected by menopausal symptoms. Thirty-eight percent of the women doctors answered that they were having a difficult time adjusting to their work life since entering menopause.

Since England has more than 30,000 female doctors between the ages of 45-55, that is a large part of the workforce being impacted. While not every woman will be affected by the symptoms, roughly two of three will be bothered by the symptoms.

The study also found that the female doctors in menopause were more likely to reduce their work hours (ie go part-time), opt for lesser paying positions or drop out of the workforce all together because they were having problems coping with the symptoms and discomfort from menopause. The study also found that these female physicians felt they were being discriminated against and not heard by management.

Women in medicine who are experiencing menopause are often at the peak of their careers, yet there has been little discussion of the effect and potential burden of menopause on physicians.

If you’ve tried to get a doctor’s appointment recently, you may have noticed that doctor’s offices and hospitals are often understaffed. That is already an issue that can be described as a very thin coverage that can impact a patient’s health.

While half the women in the study would definitely like some relief and wish things would change, half  the women surveyed did not feel comfortable discussing the issue with their managers. They feared being  laughed at or ridiculed by both managers and colleagues if they talked about the issue. That particular concern is seen across all lines of work and is discussed in detail in the book Working Through Menopause. As a result, even though they feel challenged, only 16 percent of women have talked about the symptoms of menopause with their manager.

A recent editorial in the August 15 Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) by Drs. Lindsay Shirreff and Marie Christakis suggested there should be accomodations for women in medicine as they enter perimenopause and menopause – a point I wholeheartedly agree with. The authors commented that, “The proportion of menopausal women in medicine is going to increase,” they say. “Our goal with this piece was to start conversations with healthcare institutions, encourage future research, and promote knowledge translation.”

WorkplaceThings to Accommodate Hot Flashes:

  • Discuss ways to cool the work environment, access to open windows/fans etc.
  • Provide access to cold drinking water.
  • Provide facilities for staff to shower or change during the day.

Workplace Things to Accommodate Heavy or Irregular Periods:

  • Arrange as part of a whole work policy for workers to take toilet breaks during work.
  • Provide sanitary products in workplace toilets.
  • Provide a place for workers to shower and change if necessary, during work hours.

Mental Health Issues Are Common

Since mental health issues are a common concern in menopause – anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, irritability and depression, there should be policies in place to be on the lookout for and support those issues. Not only do they affect the woman worker, they impact the person’s performance and self-esteem. And these symptoms may last for 5 -7 years, which could impact patient care and the healthcare professional’s desire to stay on full-time or at all.

Given all they are dealing with it is remarkable how wonderfully doctors in menopause do their jobs. But with more women entering medicine and more women working later in life, these types of issues should be addressed. Not only will it help the affected women; it will help the practices and hospitals where they work. These women have valuable skills, knowledge and experience that employers need to retain.

Menopause and Nurses

Menopause is certainly a contributor to the challenges of retaining nurses in the workforce. A recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the median age of menopause is 51, and the average age of nurses nationwide is 52. In the United States, about 1.3 million women become menopausal each year. Since nurses are about 90% female, that means nursing might soon see a widespread menopause impact on its ranks.

Menopause Affects All Working Women

Studies on the impact of women in the workplace in professions other that medicine have found that those with symptoms are eight times more likely to report low ability to work than their asymptomatic peers, and they were more likely to be absent from work than those menopausal women without symptoms.

Much needs to be done. And the first thing is to recognize the problem and introduce support for menopause into the workplace. It’s time to nurture the nurturer.

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