Female Cardiologists in Hungary

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FEATURE | While women in cardiology have come a long way, there are still hurdles to jump in Hungary. Medicine and the field of cardiology used to be a typically male-dominated profession. The increasing number of women enrolled in medical school led to major shifts in the gender composition.

Female physicians have increased from 30 percent in 1970 to about 52 percent in 2012. This statistic means that 20,397 physicians are women as of 2012. According a 2018 systematic review from the Journal of Women's Health, the Gender Inequality Index (GII) – which measures domains of reproductive health, empowerment and labor market participation – showed the U.S. and Hungary tied at 42, just below the Russian Federation with 51 (higher number = worse GII).

We still face some challenging cultural and professional expectations. In many instances, women are still expected to prioritize family and must fulfill roles of mother, spouse and physician at the highest standard.

This conflict was demonstrated in a study that revealed female physicians scored significantly higher on the emotional exhaustion subscale of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, and significantly more female physicians experienced high levels of emotional exhaustion compared to male physicians. There are also fewer female vs. male mentors available.

In general cardiology, women are more widely represented than in the subspecialized field of interventional cardiology (in which I intend to specialize). This fact could be due to traditions that resemble a manual field like surgery, viewed as a "typical male" profession, as well as the fear of radiation exposure.

Awareness of radiation hazards and proper radiation protection can help solve this problem. In addition, other opportunities for interventional cardiology include more part-time work options or simulator training during pregnancy.

There are many positive aspects to Hungarian female cardiologists. If we compare to 30 years ago, our general presence in high-ranking administrative positions have increased. It is also important to note that women who take maternity leave can receive 70 percent of their salary for up to 24 months!

While we have broken many barriers, there is still room for improvement to increase our presence in health care, cardiology and interventional cardiology.

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This article was authored by Judit Karacsonyi, MD, cardiologist in the division of invasive cardiology in the second department of internal medicine and cardiology center at the University of Szeged in Szeged, Hungary.