THE number of women in health care may be increasing, but higher roles remain out of reach with only a third of doctors and dentists being female.
Data on Australia's dental workforce released last week revealed women make up 37% of dentists, compared to 95% of dental hygienists.
Similar numbers were reported back in 2006, when women made up 36% of all medical practitioners compared with 99% of midwives.
Institute of Health and Welfare spokesman Dr Adrian Webster said the gradual breakdown in gender stereotypes was repeated across a range of industries.
"It's something we're seeing across the board in different health professions, GP, specialists, and more broadly across other professions outside health care system where they were traditionally male dominated," he said.
Gladstone Women's Health Centre manager Sandy Prizeman said the gap between men and women in health care professions was reflective of a social attitude.
"I think we have a social stigma that women are not quite equal to men," she said.
"If you work in healthcare, typically you'd be a midwife, but the reality is you could be the doctor delivering the baby, or the midwife in charge."
However figures are improving slowly with a 2% rise in the number of female dentists from 2011 to 2012.
"We need to look back a fair way to see how far we've come - looking back at the progress that we've made over the last 10 years," Mrs Prizeman said.
Gladstone Women's Health Centre offers programs for women to build their confidence and help them achieve their goals through self awareness and positive attitudes.
"We say to our women that you are the one that puts the ceiling at the height. I guess we just need to keep chipping away."
Gender gap more pronounced in Australia, dentist says
LOOKING around a dental surgery you wouldn't think there was a problem with the ratio of males to females working in health care.
But it is not the number of women in health care that is concerning, but the positions they hold.
Although females make up 95-99% of support roles such as dental nurses, hygienists and oral therapists, figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show female dentists make up only 37% of the work force.
Recently moving from Britain to Gladstone, Dr Nina Patel from One Dental Group said the gender gap between men and women seemed to be more pronounced in Australia.
"There is a lot more young female dentists back in the UK so it is a little bit strange coming to Australia where you do have a more male orientated profession," she said.
"But that is the case in work in general. All of the managerial roles and all the positions the further up you go are generally held by men."
"So I think in whatever you do, you've got to think and be aware that as a female there are going to prejudices and discriminations."
One of the attitudes Dr Patel often comes across is people assuming she's a dental nurse based on her gender.
"It's more from the older generations that they see females as dental nurses and males as dentists, but once you sit them down and you do the treatment they are more than happy."
"I think that it is more accepted now that women are in more professional roles."
With more people considering dentistry as a viable role in health care, Dr Patel encouraged women to consider a career in dentistry.
"There is a little bit of the glass ceiling in everything," she said. "You've just got to live with it, try your hardest and maybe work a little bit harder to get to where you want to get."
Women make up:
- 97% of dental therapists
- 95% of dental hygienists
- 85% of oral health therapists
- 37% of dentists
- 15% of dental prosthetists
- Female doctors rose from 11% in 1961 to 36.5% in 2006
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