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The difficulty of professional continuation among female doctors in Japan: a qualitative study of alumnae of 13 medical schools in Japan
  1. Kyoko Nomura1,
  2. Yuka Yamazaki2,
  3. Larry D Gruppen3,
  4. Saki Horie4,
  5. Masumi Takeuchi4,
  6. Jan Illing5
  1. 1Department of Hygiene and Public Health, Teikyo University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan
  2. 2Department of Public Health, Juntendo University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan
  3. 3Department of Medical Education, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, USA
  4. 4Department of Teikyo Support Center for Women Physicians and Researchers, Tokyo, Japan
  5. 5Department of the Centre for Medical Education Research, School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health, Durham University, Durham, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kyoko Nomura; kyoko{at}


Objectives To investigate the difficulties Japanese female doctors face in continuing professional practice.

Design A qualitative study using the Kawakita Jiro method.

Setting A survey conducted in 2011 of 13 private Japanese medical school alumni associations.

Participants 359 female doctors.

Primary outcome measures Barriers of balancing work and gender role.

Results The female doctors reported that professional practice was a struggle with long working hours due to a current shortage of doctors in Japan. There was also a severe shortage of childcare facilities in the workplace. Some women appeared to have low confidence in balancing the physician's job and personal life, resulting in low levels of professional pursuit. There appeared to be two types of stereotypical gender roles, including one expected from society, stating that “child rearing is a woman's job”, and the other perceived by the women themselves, that some women had a very strong desire to raise their own children. Male doctors and some female doctors who were single or older were perceived to be less enthusiastic about supporting women who worked while raising children because these coworkers feared that they would have to perform additional work as a result of the women taking long periods of leave.

Conclusions Important factors identified for promoting the continuation of professional practice among female doctors in Japan were the need to improve working conditions, including cutting back on long working hours, a solution to the shortage of nurseries, a need for the introduction of educational interventions to clarify professional responsibilities, and redefinition of the gender division of labour for male and female doctors. In addition, we identified a need to modernise current employment practices by introducing temporary posts to cover maternity leave and introducing flexible working hours during specialist training, thus supporting and encouraging more women to continue their medical careers.


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