More than 50 percent of Australia’s GPs are women. To mark International Women’s Day we spoke to general practitioner, Associate Professor Louise Stone, who advocates for women in medicine.
Dr Louise Stone is a vocal advocate for women in general practice and medicine more broadly.
A GP for over three decades, Dr Stone is also a medical educator and researcher at Australian National University Medical School. She has had many varied roles but her main clinical, research and teaching interest is now in mental health.
“I tell young doctors that general practice is an awesome career. It is incredibly flexible, it allows you to develop different interests and stay in the same profession.”
“When I was young, I was doing obstetrics in Gippsland in Victoria. I set up a women’s health clinic there. Now I work more in youth health and doctors’ health.”
“General practice is rich and broad, and it is portable. One of my close friends is a GP in Antarctica. If you’re that sort of person then it can be a fantastic career. You never get bored.”
For Dr Stone flexible work hours are a major benefit.
“General practice is more family-friendly than many of the other disciplines, you can work part-time. I say that with some reservations because in an ideal world it shouldn’t make any difference: surgery should be just as family-friendly as general practice.”
But she also acknowledges the challenges and the pressures that general practice GPs face, particularly the problems caused by an underfunded Medicare system.
“This is a time of uncertainty, but I have faith in general practice. It is the most effective and efficient part of our health care system. General practice has been here before. It may take a little while, but things will turn around.”
Gendered stereotypes in medicine
Dr Stone has researched the impact of gendered stereotypes in medicine, with a focus on a phenomenon she calls the “Lady Doctor” effect.
“Gendered stereotypes of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ skillsets feed the idea that women are the better choice if you need time and empathy because they enjoy that sort of thing.”
“In general practice this means they see more preventative care and slow, complex, and emotionally intensive medicine. Unfortunately, the way that Medicare works, GPs are penalised for longer, more complex cases.”
She is one of many doctors advocating for Medicare reform so doctors and patients are not penalised for longer consultations.
Research on sexual harassment in medicine
Dr Stone has spent eight years in research, policy and education highlighting the occurrence of sexual harassment and abuse in medicine.
Her work was prompted by an incident in 2014, when she helped an intern who was raped by another doctor when she finished her nightshift.
Her research has since revealed that nationally, 33% of healthcare workers indicate that they had been harassed at some time in their careers.
She found that in NSW, 55% of female doctors said they had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and for female doctors in training that figure was 61%.
“Many people in healthcare find this data difficult to accept. It is not an easy conversation to have.”
She also says it is difficult to accurately estimate the prevalence of sexual harm in healthcare because it is underreported.
Dr Stone said she didn’t start out with a passion for research.
“As a GP there were a few things that I couldn’t get answers to. For most GPs who go into research, that’s why we do it, because we have a critical question that we haven’t been able to answer, and because we want to make a difference.”
You can read more about Dr Stone’s research on her website.