How COVID-19 threatens the careers of women in medicine

Even before the pandemic, women physicians and researchers earned less, did more at home, and were lower on the professional ladder compared to men. Here’s how the pandemic could further hurt women’s careers. 

Before she heads out to teach at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Heather Christensen, PhD, preps for the at-home school day of her three children. After work, she makes dinner and does bedtime with the boys — all under age 7 — followed by work tasks until around 1 a.m.

But that’s a lot better than early in the pandemic, when Christensen was educating her kids solo — her husband’s job can’t be done from home — making her math teacher, grammar expert, head chef, and school principal. Meanwhile, she was also figuring out how to redesign her medical school courses, which COVID-19 had driven online.

“I had what felt almost like PTSD, with extreme fatigue and emotional exhaustion,” she says. “I couldn’t keep doing it.”

Now that Christensen has found other people to teach her children, the assistant professor is hoping to return to the research she set aside months ago — research that is so crucial to her professional advancement.

“I’ve been incredibly frustrated, and my sentiments are repeated by almost every woman I speak to, from front-line COVID-19 workers to basic scientists to faculty members,” she says. “They all echo my frustration, but especially those with young kids.”

As the pandemic upends so much in health care — and society — experts worry that COVID-19 could have dramatic effects on the careers of women in medicine.


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