Two years into a pandemic that upended the world as we knew it, we now emerge with hopes that the worst is behind us. But a lingering fear also persists that everything society learned about female “essential workers” will too quickly be forgotten. More than half of all essential workers, especially those in healthcare roles, are women. Approximately 9 out of 10 nurses, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists, and pharmacists are women. Women’s overrepresentation accounts for more than 75% of all healthcare positions. Despite this, female healthcare workers hold shockingly few leadership roles and receive far fewer clinical achievement awards than their male colleagues.
Inequity is not limited to leadership positions and accolades. Strong disparities also exist on the income scale in terms of both gender and race. Of the six million Americans working jobs in healthcare that pay less than $30,000 a year, half are people of color (POC), and over 80% are women.
Women in demanding healthcare professions have long faced perceptions of needing to find a work-life balance. Subtle suggestions of how I might pursue a career that would “allow” me to be both a doctor and a mother haunt me from as far back as second-year medical school didactic lectures. The tone of well-meaning representatives from lifestyle-oriented subspecialties focused more on how female medical students might plan for part-time doctoring or non-acute care roles rather than how they might emerge as the healthcare leaders of tomorrow.
Engaging with Female HCPs
As medical marketers and communications experts, we would be remiss to advise our clients on HCP engagement planning without clearly considering the unique journey that female clinicians of our time must navigate. While we have traditionally fostered clinical champion creation with our clients’ needs at the forefront by helping clinicians to understand the science/product and eventually advocate for it, it is critical to revise our approach to serve an overstretched, tired, and underappreciated post-pandemic healthcare team. This process requires consideration of not only the degree of female and POC representation in a specific role, specialty, or subspecialty, but also the personalization of medical communications: tone, messaging, length of time the engagement requires, support available from the manufacturer to ease time burden for the HCP, etc.
Clinicians today are expected to do more for patients in less time. Medical practices are being encroached by extensive electronic health records (EHR) documentation requirements during patient visits and demanding institutional revenue goals. For women in healthcare, personal responsibilities on the home front, including childcare and elder care, have only been compounded by the pandemic.
Women who were already leaving the healthcare workforce in record numbers pre-COVID began a mass exodus that will take years for the system to fully recover from. Focusing on opportunities to help HCPs achieve their multitude of professional obligations while offering improved outcomes for their patients will foster greater trust and partnership between HCPs and industry moving forward post-pandemic.