Diabetes Spikes As Physician Workforce Dwindles

The research found that female physicians will dominate the future endocrinology workforce, a gender shift that should prompt changes in how health systems support female doctors.

“In order for us to meet the needs of our patients, we must create an environment that facilitates the professional success of female physicians.”

– Elaine Pelley

Right now, more than 70 percent of early-career trainees in endocrinology are women, but 56 percent of current practicing endocrinologists are male.

The study, co-authored by Dr. Elaine Pelley, endocrinologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, suggests that bias and challenges faced by women in medicine could disproportionately affect endocrinologists.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and MetabolismEndocrinology is the field of medicine dealing with conditions involving endocrine glands and hormones, including diseases such as diabetes. 

“It’s a wake-up call for our field,” says Pelley. “In order for us to meet the needs of our patients, we must create an environment that facilitates the professional success of female physicians. A thriving physician workforce will be key to attracting trainees of both genders to the specialty.”

Analyzing nationwide data, authors from four institutions showed in 2013, 72 percent of physicians entering endocrinology training programs were women. Over a period of four years there was a 43 percent decrease in male applicants to endocrinology fellowship programs; applications by women decreased by 12 percent. 

“When we examine workforce trends, two things are clear: there will soon be a national shortage of endocrinologists, and fewer men are entering the field,” said Pelley.

Pelley notes that female physicians nationwide face challenges related to professional advancement, salary equity, and work-life balance.

“The data reflect declining interest in endocrinology among men rather than attracting more women,” says Pelley. “Financial factors may play a role. Men have been found to weigh earning potential more highly when choosing a specialty. Training as an endocrinologist currently does not provide any salary advantage over entering primary care directly out of residency.”

Pelley hopes the gender shifts have been recognized early enough so proactive approaches can be used to ensure a sustainable workforce. Other studies assessing the field of medicine as a whole have previously shown that rates of professional burnout are higher among female physicians.

“If higher rates of burnout result in more female endocrinologists choosing to reduce work hours, change careers, or retire early, this could worsen the projected endocrinology workforce shortage,” says Pelley. “We advise that health care systems consider proactive measures, such as allowing flexible hours, ensuring that endocrinology salaries are competitive with other specialties, and providing strong mentorship for career advancement into leadership roles – steps that benefit female and male endocrinologists alike.”

Co-authors include Dr. Ann Danoff, University of Pennsylvania; Dr. David S. Cooper, Johns Hopkins University; and Dr. Carolyn Becker, Harvard University.

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health