Quarter of female medical academics struggle to return to work after a career break

Authors: Helen Jaques 

Publication date:  22 Feb 2013

A quarter of female medical academics have problems restarting work after a career break, analysis by the Medical Women’s Federation has found.

The federation found that such difficulties affect 23% of female medical academics and that 13% believe that having taken a break has harmed their career progression.

By comparison, only one in 10 (13%) male medical academics struggle to return to work, and just 1% consider a career break to have had a detrimental effect on their career progression.

The Medical Women’s Federation performed a new analysis of data from the 2006 Athena Survey of Science Engineering and Technology[1] and the BMA’s 2008 report Women in Academic Medicine [2] to establish the effects of career breaks on female medical academics.

The analysis found that more than half (58%) of female doctors working in academic medicine had taken a career break compared with only 10% of male doctors. Women tended to have a higher number of career breaks than men, and their breaks were generally longer.

Female academics were more likely than male academics to return to the same job after a career break (65% v 47%). Men were more likely than women to go back to a different job at the same or higher level (47% v 22%).

Respondents identified availability of good child care, availability of flexible working, and keeping in touch with their department while on a career break as the most important factors in helping them back to work.

The Medical Women’s Federation recommends that female medical academics considering a career break should clearly identify all processes for returning to work before they take a break, and organise networking with colleagues and continuing professional development while absent.


  1. Medical Women’s Federation. Career breaks for NHS and university doctors: an analysis of the WAM database. January 2013. [Link] .
  2. British Medical Association. Women in academic medicine: developing equality in governance and management for career progression. April 2008.

Helen Jaques news reporter BMJ Careers


Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: