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Male Physicians Misbehave More Than Females

May 2, 2011

Researchers at the University of Melbourne, Australia, analyzed 485 cases where doctors had been found guilty of misconduct and disciplined in Australia and New Zealand between 2000 and 2009 and found that male doctors are four times more likely to be disciplined for misconduct than female medics, AFP is reporting.

The Australian study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, found the biggest cause of complaint was sexual misbehavior, and overall about 6 in every 10,000 doctors were disciplined in Australia and New Zealand each year by a tribunal with the power to deregister them. Male medics made up the overwhelming majority of cases.

Adjusting the numbers to account for the fewer female doctors and reduced working hours on average, male doctors were found to be four times more likely to be disciplined than their female counterparts. Obstetrician-gynecologists and psychiatrists had the highest rate of disciplinary action, followed by general practitioners.

The most commonly cited unprofessional behavior was sexual misconduct, at 24 percent, followed by 21 percent for unethical or illegal prescribing of pharmaceuticals. Eight percent of cases related to the death of a patient. Lead researcher Katie Elkin, from Melbourne’s School of Population Health and Law School, said she had been surprised at the gender difference.

She said in the majority of cases, the patient suffered no physical or diagnosed psychiatric harm. “These findings indicate that boards and tribunals interpret their public protection role fairly broadly,” Elkin claimed.

“They were often prepared to sanction doctors irrespective of whether or not the misconduct had resulted in harm to a patient. What this suggests is that regulators are not sitting back — they are trying to be proactive when professional misconduct poses risks to the community.”

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