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Female doctors becoming 'trophy' wives: Is quota the right move?

Updated October 22, 2014

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Until societal pressures and heightened expectations are addressed, lady doctors will be treated as ‘trophy wives’ and consequently, the number of females entering the medical profession with this particular aim will never recede. — Reuters file photo
Until societal pressures and heightened expectations are addressed, lady doctors will be treated as ‘trophy wives’ and consequently, the number of females entering the medical profession with this particular aim will never recede. — Reuters file photo

Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) President Dr Hameed announced today that 50 per cent of female graduates never work after graduation. This comes after last month's news of the new 50:50 quota for females to males in all public and private medical colleges.

Feminists, anarcho-primitivists, socialists and postmodernists alike have raised a kerfuffle over this decision, citing gender bias and inequality as a problem in our society.

Nothing can be farther from the truth as far as gender equality is concerned.

As a nation, we are afflicted by the habit of losing sight of the forest for the trees. We have had a female prime minister, a female foreign minister, a female Nobel Prize winner and now that girls are allowed to join the army, hopefully a female military dictator as well.

Explore: The doctor glut

On a serious note, though, know that the ratio in state-run and private medical colleges is approximately 65 females : 35 males. In the top medical colleges of Punjab – where the average strength of a class is 300 – figures are skewed in favour of girls even more. Till the late 1990s, there was a 30 per cent quota for females in all medical colleges but it was removed due to an injunction by the Lahore High Court.

As a result of PMDC’s new regulations, the number of females in medical colleges will go down and male students will get more opportunities. Was it a necessary step? Was there a need for establishing this unique quota for the “non-oppressed” majority?

Some statistics should be examined before hastening to a conclusion.


50K new graduates versus the demand of 600K per year


Figures available on the PMDC website indicate that the number of Registered Medical Practitioners (i.e. people who have completed their MBBS degrees and have completed house job of one year) is 126,931 out of which 71,847 (56.6 per cent) are males and 55,084 (43.3 per cent) are females.

On the other hand, the number of registered specialists (people with an MBBS degree and a completed post-graduation degree) is 26,636 out of which 19,983 (75 per cent) are males and 6653 (25 per cent) are females.

There is a visible decline in the number of female graduates who actually finish their post-graduation studies.

In BDS (Bachelors in Dental Surgery), female graduates actually outnumber male graduates by about 540 in Punjab and 1085 in Sindh, yet the number of specialists is less than half.

In Punjab, only 3.72 per cent female BDS graduates went on to specialise, while in Sindh, only 2.74 per cent female BDS graduates opted for further studies.

A survey about the ‘quota question’ was done in different medical colleges some years ago, and its results were published in Dawn on July 16, 2007. A sample of 344 female students was randomly drawn from around 1000 students (both boys and girls) in their fourth and final years of MBBS at Dow and SMC.

Also read: Pakistan's medical schools: where the women rule

Eighty-five girls agreed that most female doctors leave the profession soon after their graduation or within five to 10 years (mainly due to social pressures especially after getting married), thus contributing to shortage of doctors.

Seventy-five per cent of students rejecting the open merit system thought that the number of seats for male candidates must be increased as our society still suffered a regressive attitude towards working women, and male students should not be made to suffer due to this.

The demand for a quota had been reverberating for the last few years and a resolution to this effect had been passed in the Punjab Assembly previously.

Now, Dr Masood Hameed tells us:

"Pakistan is producing around 14,000 doctors per year, out of whom 70 per cent are women. There are around 50,000 to 60,000 medical practitioners against the demand of 600,000 in the country. It is feared that almost 50 per cent of the medical students would never work. The government spends almost Rs 2.5 million on each MBBS student. Unfortunately, after completion of the course, most of the female medical graduates never work."


Attitudes must change


Summing up, females have been the majority in medical colleges over the last 15 years, but the final number of female practitioners and specialists has remained considerably lower. In other words, the input increased but the output did not increase accordingly.

This is partly due to the societal issue of getting married mid-career, and partly to the attitude of female doctors (they do not want work in remote areas).

All the same, there are much better ways to sort out the gender gap in the medical profession than a quota system, which is at best a lazy and superficial move.

Take a look: The doctor brides

The ultimate solution lies in addressing the societal pressures and heightened expectations.

Till the day that is accomplished, lady doctors will be treated as trophy wives and consequently, the number of females entering the medical profession with this particular aim will never recede.

The impetus has to come from the parents. Career counselling during the FSc/A-levels is a must. For the government, enforcing a compulsory five-year service for all medical graduates could be an option.

Mao Tse Tung famously said that women hold up half the sky.

It is also perhaps time that women showed responsibility towards the medical profession and eased the way forward for other members of their gender.