Women in Healthcare: Easing the Burden

International Women’s Day, recognized annually on March 8, celebrates women’s achievements and helps to imagine a gender equal world. The month of March is also Women’s History Month, with the aim of “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.”

But these March observances represent one month and one day, out of many. Yet, year-round, organizations also depend on female-identifying workers for both emotional and cognitive labor, in addition to their explicit daily responsibilities.

COVID-19 has highlighted workforce gender disparities

Take job representation and performance during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. 

Across industries, women are well-represented in roles that have been deemed essential. In fact, the United States Census Bureau found that women hold 42% of the nation’s full-time, year-round jobs designated as essential, while also making up a majority of essential workers in specific fields like education, healthcare, personal care, and sales and office occupations. 

And these women are rising to the challenge of being considered “essential.” In a January 2022 episode of The McKinsey Podcast, McKinsey senior partner and leader Alexis Krivkovich had this to say about female leaders across industries stepping up during the COVID-19 pandemic:

“Women senior leaders do more to help their employees navigate work-life challenges, relative to their male peers. Similarly, they spend that additional time helping manage workloads, and they’re 60% more likely to be focusing on emotional support.”

In the difficult timeline of a global pandemic, however, this additional emotional and cognitive labor taken on by women has contributed to increasing amounts of burnout, across all industries.

Healthcare has a female-heavy workforce

Both the increased workload and increasingly frequent burnout hold true in the helping professions, including healthcare, where the majority of front-line workers also identify as female. 

A 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found that women comprised more than 77% of healthcare workers with direct patient contact and 84% of those working in long-term care settings. Furthermore, according to the United States Census Bureau, nearly 87% of those in crucial healthcare occupations like registered nurses are women. 

The import of women in these fields is clear. But, with the healthcare industry on the frontlines during a global pandemic, the brunt of increasing care requests and requirements has also fallen heavily on healthcare’s female workers.

Women in healthcare are increasingly burnt out

Women working in healthcare have experienced a disproportionate amount of burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, since they have a higher likelihood of shouldering at-home family care, including meal preparation, shopping, and other family activities. Add to this the stress from their daily healthcare workplace — stress brought about both from caring for their patients and working to avoid infection themselves.

Medscape’s National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2021 found that about 51% of women physicians were burned out, versus 36% of male physicians. This represented a higher disparity than usual. And, in an industry where staff burnout has a very real effect on both patients and providers, women are bearing the brunt of these stressors.

Digital health technology can lift some of the burden

It doesn’t have to be like this. While healthcare workers will always be the human heart of care, there are ways for digital health technology to ease some of the burden, scaling their reach and allowing them to return to practicing at the top of their licenses.

One such option can be found in in-room patient education solutions. This type of digital patient engagement tool alleviates the administrative burden from staff, putting tasks like meal ordering, entertainment, service requests, and environmental controls in the hands of patients. This automation of routine tasks and documentation for staff enables healthcare organizations to support patients and families to be active participants in their care without adding to staff and clinician workloads.  

By empowering patients to manage aspects of their hospital stay through consumer-first digital technology, and providing in-depth patient education around conditions, medications, and more, the clinical team is able to dedicate more time providing care and less time on non-clinical tasks. This means a renewed staff focus on higher value activities, such as teach-back — all the while, knowing that technology can act as a true support, rather than just another requirement. 

The bottom line

The news around female healthcare employees isn’t all negative — not only are women well represented in the healthcare workforce, they also have a largely positive outlook on their careers, with nearly 75% reporting happiness with their careers versus about 69% of men in the healthcare workforce.

And where female-identified staff and clinicians are struggling, in a woman-heavy industry like healthcare, there are some key technological solutions that can be put in place to help lift the administrative and otherwise rote burdens and enable them to spend more time caring for their patients in the way they do best.

This International Women’s Day, let’s support our healthcare workers – of any gender – in every way we can. From headcount to digital health technology, providing resources and support will go a long way toward leveling the playing field for women in healthcare and creating a gender equal world.