Female Oncologists More Likely to Skip Conferences Due to Family Obligations

A survey of oncologists found child care is a significant concern of women in the field and can greatly impact their conference attendance compared to their male counterparts.

Despite an equal belief among oncologists that attending medical conferences is important to career advancement, female oncologists were more likely to say that childcare responsibilities influenced their decision to attend these meetings.

Miriam A. Knoll, MD, of John Theurer Cancer Center, N.J., and colleagues reached out to 449 oncologists at 47 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers asking about the respondent’s demographics, conference attendance, and perceived benefits and barriers to attending conferences. The findings were reported in JAMA Oncology.

Among 248 respondents (55%), there were 65 female medical oncologists and 43 female radiation oncologists. The majority of male (75.7%) and female (71.3%) respondents had children who required adult supervision. However, women were significantly more likely to have a full-time employed spouse (74.1% vs 45.0%; P<.001) and to spend more hours on parenting and domestic tasks (P=.01) than their male counterparts.

In the past year, the women respondents attended a median of two conferences compared with a median of three among men (P=.004). After adjustment for specialty, age, years since residency, degree, spouse employment status, parental status, and weekly hours, women attended 0.58 fewer conferences than men in the last year.

Respondents across the board said the perceived benefits of attending conferences were presenting one’s research, networking, educating oneself regarding advances in oncology, and participating in committees. One-third of women indicated that whether a meeting conflicted with childcare responsibilities was important when deciding to attend a conference, compared with fewer than one in five men (30.6% vs 17.1%; P=.01) who said the same.

Additionally, almost half of women (48.2%) indicated that having children had “very much” or “quite a bit” of influence on their decision to attend professional conferences compared with only about one-third of men (35.0%; P=.04) who said they felt the same influence. When attending a conference, 27.8% of women rated on-site childcare as “extremely important.” In contrast, only 10.0% of men (P=.045) said the same. 

Women also reported significantly lower career satisfaction than men (P=.03). Gender and conference attendance were both independently associated with career satisfaction.

“Our findings extend prior research in other settings to support visible, innovative actions by oncology meeting organizers, including women’s networking centers and facilitation of childcare services, as steps to ensure full participation of all those who might contribute or benefit at conferences,” the researchers wrote.

Knoll and colleagues listed several limitations to the study including its self-reported information and the possibility that it may not be a fully representative population.

Despite this, the data “suggest the possibility that facilitating attendance at national meetings might engage physicians in ways that may improve well-being and professional satisfaction.”

“Attending national oncology conferences provides opportunities for education, professional development, collaboration, and networking," said Dr. Merry Jennifer Markham, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) expert and associate professor of medicine at the University of Florida in the division of hematology and oncology. "It can be challenging for working parents with young children to be able to attend conferences due to concerns about childcare. As shown by Drs. Knoll and Jagsi and their team, these concerns disproportionately affect women oncologists. ASCO wants all who are interested in attending its events to be able to do so, and is committed to ensuring that every attendee has a positive, educational experience. Reducing barriers to conference attendance - such as providing on-site childcare and lactation rooms - is an important step in supporting conference attendance for all physician parents and especially physician mothers.”