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ESMO Press Release: Only One in Five Female Oncologists Have a Leadership Position

ESMO Exploratory Survey for the Women for Oncology (W4O) Project presented at the ECC 2013 Congress
30 Sep 2013
Bioethics, legal and economic issues

Lugano/Amsterdam, 30 September 2013 - Relationship with patients (79%), intellectual stimulation (70%) and pride in being able to fight a challenging disease (60%) are the key points that make the job rewarding for female oncologists. These and other interesting data were highlighted in the ESMO Exploratory Survey on the Challenges of Female Oncologists, a project launched by ESMO President, Martine Piccart, presented in a dedicated forum at the ECC2013 Congress in Amsterdam1.

“This initiative intends to explore and analyse the world of female oncologists in order to devise activities and projects aimed at ensuring respect and equality in a context where the ‘female work force’ is steadily increasing,” said Martine Piccart.

Such results have also a positive effect on patients, who see their doctors’ enthusiasm and knowledge reflected in the quality of care they receive from them. It must be added, however, that women have difficulties in reaching leadership positions. In fact, only less than 15% of female oncologists said to have a leadership position within their field of work, as demonstrated by a detailed analysis of the reported roles in the ESMO survey which collected almost 700 answers.

These figures – supported and confirmed by a qualitative analysis based on 13 interviews with female oncologists in important positions – have an enormous impact on daily work in terms of time and effort, often to the detriment of private life. One figure is of significant importance: 56% of female oncologists conduct over 40 patient visits a week, dedicating a significant amount of time after the first visit (20-40 minutes, equal to almost half the appointment) listening to patients’ concerns and doubts, and in 35% of cases giving their personal mobile phone number (in serious cases the number rises to 45%).

It is therefore no coincidence that the most important requests concern the development of more flexible training, fellowship programmes and continuous medical education courses, mentorship schemes and online tools to help improve their professional careers. More family-friendly services enabling them to attend international conferences are also desirable. However, while respondents stressed the issue of private life in the management of their everyday routine (60% of respondents believed that the greatest challenge for their professional growth was being able to optimise the relationship between work and family), interestingly gender-related issues did not directly emerge from the survey; rather issues concerning ‘access’ to certain roles arose, despite the fact that female oncologists believe they can contribute to the profession with their excellent multitasking skills (48%), ability to listen and talk to patients (45%), understanding of the human aspect of the disease (33%), as well as their great organisational skills (32%) and professionalism (29%).

“Our female oncologists”, explained Piccart, “are women who are highly motivated to improve their professional and scientific knowledge, especially needed in a rapidly evolving field such as medical oncology. It is no coincidence that over 60% of respondents were in favour of ESMO implementing ‘flexible’ training and fellowship programmes to help improve their professional careers. We have suspected this for some time, and now we have confirmation. There are many different opinions, as well as situations: the ESMO W4O project was created in order to allow us to listen to, share and dedicate due attention to these issues with passion and commitment, with the strong belief that each step in this direction also helps patients; whose care remains the main objective for all of us.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The ESMO Women for Oncology (W4O) Forum took place on Saturday 28 September 2013.
  2. The official Twitter hashtag of the project is #women4onco
  3. The official webpage of the ESMO W4O project can be found here

About the European Society for Medical Oncology

The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) is the leading European professional organisation committed to advancing the specialty of medical oncology and promoting a multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment and care.

ESMO’s mission is to advance cancer care and cure through fostering and disseminating good science that leads to better medicine and determines best practice.

As a trusted organisation with 35 years of experience, ESMO serves its 7,000 members and the oncology community through: a brand of excellence in post-graduate oncology education and training; leadership in transforming evidence-based research into standards of cancer care in Europe; dedicated efforts to foster a more favorable environment for scientific research; innovative international platforms to share expertise, best practices and disseminate the most up-to-date scientific research to as wide an audience as possible.

ESMO’s scientific journal, Annals of Oncology, ranks among the top clinical oncology journals worldwide. ESMO events are the meeting place in Europe for medical oncologists to update their knowledge, to network and to exchange ideas.

To find out more about ESMO, please visit: www.esmo.org

Last update: 30 Sep 2013

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