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The toll of ‘invisible work’ on women in medicine


September 17, 2022

1 min read



Jain S. Closing remarks. Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit; Sept. 16-17, 2022; Chicago.

Jain is the founder and chair of the Women in Medicine Summit.

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CHICAGO — “Women leaders are disproportionately doing the [invisible] work to make the company be better, and we need to do better for our women,” Shikha Jain, MD, FACP said here.

That invisible work is “getting the company awards, recognition” and often includes necessary but hidden tasks that keep the organization afloat, Jain said during closing remarks on the first day of the Women in Medicine Summit.

Shikha Jain, MD
Women are more often tasked with “invisible work,” such as more time spent on electronic medical records and responding to patient messages, according to Shikha Jain, MD, FACP. Source: Joan-Marie Stiglich, ELS

Jain explained that a citizenship task is an example of invisible work. This includes serving “as a representative for your race and gender,” serving “on a committee that advances diversity efforts,” and posing “for photos to be used in a brochure — that’s my favorite,” Jain said. “Take a recruit out to dinner. Represent the institution because you are the sole woman or the sole person of color.”

Instances of invisible work also include time spent on electronic medical records. Women in medicine spend more time on EMR tasks not because they are less efficient but because data show they respond to a greater number of patient messages, and because patients are more likely to message a woman doctor, Jain said.

She advised attendees not to “fall into the trap and become your team’s token secretary, scribe, party planner, committee rep.”

To fix problem of invisible work, Jain said that when asked to take on a new task such as chairing a committee, one should ask for protected time or additional compensation.

She also said the solution requires stakeholders such as division and hospital communication directors to participate in these dialogues.

“We need men at the table,” Jain said. Also, men must sit on committees that address diversity and inequity.

“I already know the problem. These guys … they don’t, and they want to help. It is high time that women who have dedicated their careers to medicine are seen and heard, and you can quote me on that,” Jain said.

“Invisible labor is real, and it really hurts. People doing invisible labor are marginalized by the fact that their work isn’t seen, paid or acknowledged,” she continued.

Healio has also written about the career disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of invisible work on the personal lives of women in medicine.

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