Women Psychiatrists in India: A reflection of their contributions

The increasing number of women joining psychiatry is a relatively new phenomenon in the field of medicine. Keeping with the trends world over, the number of women psychiatrists in India is rising over the last two to three decades.
Historically, psychiatry has often been considered to be associated with unpredictable and violent patients, and had a number of misconceptions attached to it. The trends are changing now. Reasons for psychiatry becoming a preferred career choice for women doctors can be traced to multiple factors. Psychiatry has gradually shifted out of the high walls of the mental hospitals to the neuropsychiatry clinics, counselling and gaining more acceptability in the society. Over and above this, women doctors have to juggle career and family responsibilities as domestic and child related duties have largely remained with them despite changing roles. The crucial career-intensive years in professional life that is residency and early years as junior residency coincide with the equally crucial period that is marriage, childbearing and child rearing in the personal life. A career in psychiatry allows doing justice to multiple roles in a better way than the other busy clinical and emergency branches like obstetrics, pediatrics, internal medicine, cardiology or surgery. Because of the possibility of predictable working hours, less emergencies, flexible working schedules and greater opportunities to interact with patients are one of the reasons me and my husband selected this branch as my carrier.
Research has documented that the working styles of female psychiatrists have been noted to be different from their male colleagues in some aspects. Many women psychiatrists are noted to be more empathic in approach. Their patients report better satisfaction levels as they are more likely to engage patients as active partners in the care by adopting a democratic style of communication. They spend a significantly greater proportion of time on preventive services and counselling, compared to their male colleagues. The day is not far when women shall also attain positions of authority and leadership in academics, professional organizations and medical institutions along with their male colleagues.
Number of Female psychiatrists in India
Women psychiatrists constitute 14.6% of the total membership (2829) of Indian Psychiatric Society. The number of women doctors joining psychiatry has started increasing only recently as suggested by higher percentage of members with less than five years.
Women have formed about 20% of the candidates joining psychiatry residency in the last five years at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. Most of the premier medical schools of the country have women faculty; a few of them are professors. Few women have also been known to have headed a psychiatric hospital or a medical college.
Contributions in Indian Psychiatric Society
Currently, there is no female office bearer in the Indian Psychiatric Society however, since its inception in 1947, women psychiatrists have held the post of president four times: Prof. Ajita Chakraborty in 1976, Prof. Roshan Master in 1981, Prof. Jaya Nagaraja in 1983 and Prof. Deepali Dutta in 1990. Prof. Ajita Chakraborty has also held the post of general secretary of the society in 1967 and 1968.
Contributions in Indian Journal of Psychiatry
Among 170 papers, which had women as first authors, there were only 45 papers published prior to 1980. Dr. Miss Mani B Ghamat was the first woman psychiatrist to publish an article in the earlier version of the journal, Indian Journal of Neurology and Psychiatry in 1952. She worked as assistant psychiatrist at JJ Hospitals, Bombay. She was also probably the first women psychiatrist recorded to be a member of the society. Prof. Ajita Chakarborty, Prof. Roshan Master, Prof. Erna Hoch, Prof. M. Sarada Menon, Prof. Deepali Dutta were some of the pioneer women researchers.
The numbers of women psychiatrists who have published in the journal also have started increasing from 1980 onwards. The areas where women psychiatrists have established themselves as leaders are child psychiatry, schizophrenia, disability, suicide and mental health issues related to women.
Other issues with Female Psychiatrist
On discontinuation of a job for family building or other reasons, options for revival of career after a certain period are presently unavailable due to restrictions in age of entry and qualification for jobs at different levels. Currently there are no regulations or policies from government which can address these issues. There is little opportunity for flexible training, creative scheduling of job or training if a woman wants to come back to academics after a gap due to child care responsibility.
Although the country is credited for having the first woman Prime Minister in the region, currently there are very few women psychiatrists in top positions of the Indian Psychiatric Society or other national bodies despite their increasing numbers. Therefore, at present, the role of women psychiatrists in policy making of the specialty remains negligible. The gender inequity has been explained by the fact that women, because of family obligations, work fewer hours, are less productive, and have limited publications. The reason may be women have often fewer mentors, professional networks and less collegial support in the academic medical system.
In Summary
The number of women psychiatrists in India is on rise in the recent years. Indian women psychiatrists have many contributions to their credit. They have left their marks on various areas of psychiatry; significant among them are child psychiatry, suicide and its prevention, community psychiatry, rehabilitation of patients with schizophrenia and issues related to women mental health. But to succeed and flourish, they need support both at home, workplace and colleagues. All of us have to innovate in finding ways to maximize the optimal use of the substantial talent pool and intellectual capital of female psychiatrists.

Dr Sampada Anvekar
MD (Psychiatry KEM Mumbai)
Assistant Professor, Dept of Psychiatry, VMGMC and CIVIL Hospital, Solapur