Menopause needs more than a mention

by Helena McKeown

It’s time to be more sympathetic towards a time of life more than half of all people experience.

Location: UK
Published: Thursday 6 August 2020

As doctors we are used to speaking with patients about difficult medical issues.

Although not easy, we do it each and every day but it’s often a different matter when it comes to ourselves as doctors. So, I want to raise an issue that I have long felt was taboo within our profession – the menopause.

And a BMA survey carried out before the pandemic shows I am not alone.

The survey reveals a lack of support for doctors experiencing the menopause has resulted in some, not huge numbers admittedly, stepping down from senior roles when we need them more than ever.

Symptoms such as hot flushes, anxiety and fatigue were cited by 90 per cent of doctors, who responded to the survey, as having affected their ability to work – with 38 per cent saying the impact was ‘significant’.

But only 16 per cent had discussed this with their managers. Some even mentioned the added stigma there is in medicine to admitting that you are struggling, and many felt uncomfortable discussing their needs with their managers. So, it’s time to change this to create an improved, more sympathetic working environment.

Menopause in the workplace is not rocket science. We know this is the case for our patients so why not for doctors? It’s about taking the time to understand and to make it OK to talk about a phase of life that more than half of us will experience at some point. Raising awareness and offering support can only be a win-win situation for the profession, which is why it is so important to start talking about this.

The BMA will be calling later in the year for full and open discussions in medical workplaces and a more pro-active approach in better support for women doctors such as flexible working and simple adjustments in the workplace such more water and ‘cooling down’ areas.

The pandemic has shown that the health service needs its doctors to be working on their top form as never before. We need to ensure we retain all our doctors as a vital part of our workforce. Simple steps to support those experiencing the menopause now, and those who will follow, will ensure less lost working days, a better workplace for doctors and, quite simply, make us a better profession.

Let’s break the taboo – what’s good for our patients, should be good enough for us.