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15 Jun 2017

 By Dr Chris Wilson, Co-chair, Council of Doctors in Training

Over the 25th to 28th of May, the AMA held its annual National Conference.  We heard about the importance of AMA leadership from the Health Minister and Shadow Minister, Opposition Leader, Leader of the Greens and the Prime Minister.  We had panel discussions on topics including tackling obesity, ‘health care in danger’ and doctors’ health and wellbeing.  All were engaging and thought-provoking, however it was a soapbox topic at the end of the conference that really sparked my interest.  It came from a female Doctor in Training and was titled “The AMA is an old boys club.  Does it really want to and if so, how can it be changed?”

Wow.  Why did we wait to the end of the conference for this to be discussed?  Looking around the room, the comment had merit.  The conference was largely populated by males either rapidly heading for the wrong side of middle age or already there, with a smattering of female doctors and around 35 DiTs making up the numbers.  At gatherings like this, it’s easy to see how the AMA could be labelled an ‘old boys club’.

Is this reflective of our membership?  The answer is probably yes (for now) ... and no. 

There’s no doubt medicine was once a male-dominated workforce.  We still see evidence of this in the significant gender imbalance in clinicians moving into the latter stages of their careers.  For DiTs, this imbalance in the ranks of our seniors becomes starker when we review the relative parity in sexes within our own cohort.  We also see the disproportionate abundance of males in leadership roles in our hospitals, health systems and representative bodies – including the AMA.

To the second part of the soapbox challenge: “Does it (the AMA) really want to and if so, how can it be changed?” 

I’d argue the Association is looking to evolve and improve diversity in representation – in part driven by Doctors’ in Training – with a growing self-awareness that lopsided gender representation in leadership roles is unhealthy.  It is impossible for someone like me (a PGY6 white male in my 30’s) to adequately represent the views and concerns of 2017 interns, let alone female trainees, by solely drawing on my own experiences.  This is why we have councils and committees – so we can draw on a wide range of collective experience and speak as best able for the collective.  Those groups are ineffective if there’s more men named Richard at the table than there are women.  In the last 12 months, we have seen improvements in female representation on AMA boards at both state/territory level and federally, however there is still some way to go.

So while the ‘old boys club’ tag might still be appropriate, it is only because we collectively let it be.  We all have a collective responsibility to help the Association evolve and better represent us all.  We shouldn’t just hope the increased number of female medical students over the past decade or two will work their way through the ranks to leadership roles.  We need to actively strive for change, remembering that we are what makes the AMA the AMA, so it must be pushed to evolve by those on councils and general members alike.  We need to lead by example for the rest of the profession and find ways that allow female doctors to take leadership positions without unduly sacrificing work or family.  We need to better represent female trainees in our advocacy work, especially at that critical time where training and starting a family intersect. 

Raising the spectre of the ‘old boys club’ at the AMA’s national conference was a bold move and step in the right direction.  It’s time now for us to work together and shake that tag forever.  

Published: 15 Jun 2017