Are Women Really Better at Patient Care?

Hannah Luu |

By Hannah Luu and Laura Bourdeanu

Though women have been taking the spotlight in recent years, the truth is that there have been many successful women across a number of industries for many decades - particularly in health care. For example, Madame Marie Curie, along with her husband Pierre Curie, are known for the discovery of the radioactive elements radium and polonium from pitchblende. Radium is used today in nuclear medicine, for the treatment of prostate cancer by chemotherapy.

The US government spends millions of dollars on research and development, information systems and high-end equipment for the healthcare industry each year. The industry has seen an increasing number of women become medical professionals in different specializations in recent years. With more women in the field and improvements in technology and equipment, it’s no wonder that more and more females are leaving their mark on the healthcare field.

Why are Women Better at Patient Care?

There are three qualities that are generally attributed more to women that come into play when considering patient care: empathy, compassion, and sympathy. Let’s take a look at these attributes from a medical professional’s perspective.

Empathy is when a medical professional places him or herself in the patient’s position to understand and appreciate the unique situation of the patient. It helps them make sense of why and how patients made the decisions that lead them to the hospital. It also helps understand the patient’s concerns. Sympathy is when the medical professionals relate with the emotions of the patients and understand what they are going through. Compassion is when the medical professional shares in the patient’s emotional burden to find the motivation to help cure the patient.

Evidence from Studies

A Harvard study reviewed the medical records of 1.5 million elderly patients who were admitted because of medical reasons between 2011 and 2015, and concluded that those who were treated by female physicians fared better with regards to 30-day mortality and 30-day readmissions. The results of the study are as follows:



For readmissions, the proportion of patients readmitted for male physicians was 15.5% compared to 15% for their female counterparts. For mortality, the proportion of patients who were deceased within a 30-day period was 11.5% for male physicians compared to 11% for their female counterparts. The team for the study had suggested that when the figures corresponding to these numbers are calculated, the difference is significant and adds up to a lot of saved patient lives. This evidence suggested that female physicians provided higher quality care than male physicians.

Women as Better Listeners

Earlier studies by Roter, DL and Hall, JA, have shown that female physicians in primary care tend to talk and listen to their patients more. They are more patient centric and spend an average of two minutes more with their patients. During this time, they try and develop a trustworthy relationship with their patients. Female physicians try to be more compassionate and understand the situation that their patients are going through. They tend to empathize with the feelings of patients and provide psychological and psychosocial counseling to patients. They encourage the patients positively, asking them questions to gain insight into their patients’ condition and history to get to the root of the problem. The patients feel more comfortable and tend to reveal their habits and their pain or aches which may be symptoms of their disease or illness. This can contribute to the physician making a better diagnosis, thus leading to better patient care and treatment. The studies deduced that thorough and more open communication is the way to better patient care.

Exemplary Women in Health Care

Women in the modern healthcare industry have shown great potential. They have shown that along with providing high quality patient care, they have entrepreneurial skills and business acumen. According to Modern Healthcare, there were 25 notable women in the healthcare sector in 2015.

Topping the list was Leah Binder, president of Leapfrog Group, a not-for-profit organization aimed at improving the safety and quality of hospitals. Adding a bit of diversity to the list, there is Dr. Tejal Gandhi, CEO and president of the National Patient Safety Foundation. Her foundation emphasizes using information systems to avoid mistakes and implementing patient-safety programs. Sylvia Mathews Burwell is another notable figure in healthcare. She is the face of the Obama Administration’s implementation of the Affordable care act and oversees a trillion dollar agency with approximately 80,000 workers since she took the position of HHS secretary in June of 2014.

These women, among others, are making their mark by serving as role models for other women in the healthcare industry. They are leading successful companies and making strides in patient care.

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