Disability Issues Confronting Female Physicians

May 1, 2008 - Publications by

Published in M.D. News, May 2008 

Working as a physician is highly demanding both from a physical and emotional perspective.  Increasingly, physicians, regardless of gender, face disabling health issues as a consequence of age, chronic emotional stress or from the impact of repetitive stress and strain from performing procedures. 

Those stresses are significantly amplified for women who choose to have both a family and a medical career.  Female physicians must often be prepared to work what amounts to two full-time jobs; in addition to all of the physiological and emotional strains that come with practicing medicine, they also face special challenges and demands as they work to fulfill their roles as mothers and caregivers for their families.  How do you ensure emotional availability and consistency for your family while also being available for patients and coworkers who rely on you to make critical decisions?  Women doctors in high pressure specialties — obstetrics, surgery, etc. — are also faced with the strain of long hours away from the family.  Often, these conflicting pressures are very difficult to juggle, forcing them to simply absorb the effects of these complex, chronic stressors.  

Perhaps it is no surprise then that female physicians are particularly at risk for developing psychological disorders and addictions, including severe anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression and alcoholism.  In our experience, anxiety-related disorders are amongst the most common disabling conditions among our female physician clients, especially among those with families.  And our female physician clients often seem to experience a much earlier onset of disability than their male counterparts. 

Additionally, chronic stressors depress the immune system and increase the risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular problems. Women working as physicians also face the same physical demands as men in the field do and are vulnerable to such conditions as osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and degenerative disc diseases – many of which are a direct result of repetitive motion and strain.  These conditions are often a consequence of bending or maintaining positions that adversely affect posture, cause chronic pain and eventually limit mobility.  Because increased family and professional demands invariably cut into time available for self-care, female physicians may find themselves less able to compensate for the debilitating physical aspects of their jobs, leaving them especially vulnerable.

Nonetheless, many women feel compelled to continue working long hours despite their declining health and continued stress.  However, their disability policies may allow them to collect benefits while still continuing to work on a reduced or restricted basis.

If your conditions are impairing your ability to practice your specialty, it’s important to determine whether your disability insurance policy will pay you the benefits that you deserve.   You may be entitled to Total Disability, based on an inability to perform the material and substantial duties of your own occupation.  Or you may be entitled to Residual or Partial Disability benefits if your conditions affect your ability to do one or more of the material duties of your specialty, or are just affecting your efficiency.

Juggling professional and personal goals can be a struggle and is a great challenge for the female physician.  Should you experience health problems, it is well worth your time to explore your eligibility for benefits.

For more information, contact us today.