Women in medicine

Flexible hours, lifestyle factors lead more women to choose emergency medicine

Outside of the primary care specialties, emergency medicine is now the most popular specialty choice for active female DOs.

Chris Giesa, DO, began practicing emergency medicine in 1991. Although her residency class was more than half women, the vast majority of DOs in leadership positions in emergency medicine at the time were men.

Over the past decade, the percentage of female DOs in emergency medicine has increased by roughly half, according to AOA data on DOs in active practice. About 6 percent of female DOs are emergency physicians, up from 4 percent in 2005. Outside of the primary care specialties, emergency medicine is now the most popular specialty choice for female osteopathic physicians.

The American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians has also seen a surge in their female membership. Last year, 30% of their meeting attendees were women, a significant increase from 2004, when just 17% of attendees were women.

In response to the growing number of women pursing leadership opportunities in the field of emergency medicine, Dr. Giesa, the treasurer of ACOEP, has spearheaded creation of the college’s first Women’s Council, which will hold its inaugural gathering in October at the ACOEP’s Scientific Assembly.

Top specialty choices of active female DOs
Specialty Percentage of active female DOs, 2005 Percentage of active female DOs, 2015 Percent increase 2005-2015
Primary care specialties* 59.7% 60% 0.3%
Emergency medicine 4% 6.1% 2.1%
Psychiatry 2.3% 3.1% 0.8%
Anesthesiology 1.8% 2.3% 0.5%
General surgery 0.8% 1.9% 1.1%

*includes family medicine, internal medicine, ob-gyn, pediatrics and OMT/OMM

Source: AOA Physician Masterfile data on DOs in active practice (2005 & May 2015)

“This new group will serve to connect some of our younger physicians with women mentors,” Dr. Giesa says.

Megan Koenig, DO, an attending physician in Colorado Springs, Colorado, says she’s excited to participate in ACOEP’s Women’s Council because women in emergency medicine face unique challenges.

“One big issue is that we are always looked at as the nurses,” she says. “When you walk in a room, people say, ‘Where is my physician? I still haven’t seen a doctor yet.’ Actually, you’ve seen me multiple times. It’s interesting to talk to other women to learn different ways of dealing with that problem.”

Other gender-specific issues include pregnancy, childbirth and breast pumping, Dr. Koenig notes. She herself sought advice from colleagues when she was expecting because she wasn’t sure how much time she should take off after having her daughter.

“Within the ACOEP, we have quite a few women from the older generation who can really help guide us, because they’ve been there, and they have paved the way,” she says. “It’s a neat camaraderie.”

The lifestyle factor

Initially enamored by orthopedic surgery as a premed, Dr. Koenig was drawn to emergency medicine as a medical student in part because of the specialty’s flexible hours and lack of call. She currently works six 24-hour shifts each month.

“I really liked that I could dictate my own schedule and work as much or as little as I wanted, so I could focus on being a mom and a wife and not be on call all the time,” she says. “Basically, when I’m not at work, I’m completely devoted to my family, rather than always having a pager.”

As a specialty, emergency medicine is a good fit for women in medicine who want to have families, Dr. Giesa says.

“You can easily work full time or part time,” she says. “You can stay at home with your children and work shift work while your spouse is home with the children. The nice thing is, when you’re off, you’re off. You don’t have to worry about backup child care because you’re on call.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct the location of the inaugural Women’s Council meeting, which will be held at the ACOEP’s Scientific Assembly.


  1. Ahh, I remember that first seat 2 shift back after having my first child. In so much pain from going 6 hrs without pumping I pulled my white coat forward, faced the wall in the center charting area of the ER and manually pumped while checking patient’s labs. Needless to say, I (residency trained as an FP) returned to full spectrum FM after we moved to be closer to family. I love ER but the craziness of the job means taking 15min for yourself every 3 hours is just not possible and sometimes not ethical. Breastfeeding my son was more important to me.

  2. Pingback: ACOEP’s Women are Making Big Waves in Emergency Medicine – ACOEP

  3. Pingback: ACOEP's Women are Making Big Waves in Emergency Medicine | ACOEP

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