Eliminating gender based bias in medicine: the role of medical students

(Ashkan Forouzani, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Akshara Singh, a 2nd year student at Baroda Medical College, Baroda, India. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

For a very long time now, women have been forced to occupy a secondary place in relation to men. Women have been relegated to the margins in spite of the fact that they numerically constitute at least half of the human population today. From the beginning of the time, women have been subjected to pregnancy, childbirth and menstruation while men are believed to go out and hunt and kill to gather food. It is quite ironical that superiority is accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth life and nurtures it but to that which kills. The need for women’s empowerment is felt because of the subordinate status they have bear. However, mere realisation of the error does not set things in the right direction.

Sexism has a long standing history within the medical industry as well. In the medical profession overall, male doctors still outnumber female doctors, 64% to 36%, according to 2019 data from AAMC. In 2018, 59% of gynaecologists were women, yet there still is pay gap based on gender in this speciality. Again, women and men begin their medical careers at similar rates but they do not advance at the same rate. It has also been found that gender stereotypes play a role in socializing students towards their specialities. For example, women are likely to go into communal specialities including family medicine, paediatrics and internal medicine while men are more likely to go into surgery, research and be chair persons.

Building on a framework for addressing gender inequity within academic medicine to be preached by the medical students about the bias faced on daily basis, here are some proposed solutions. Firstly, we can only begin to address problems of inequity by definitively addressing the elephant in the room: the systemic nature of gender-based bias. While insufficient in and of itself for affecting change, this kind of clarity represents the first steps in creating space for men and women of all training levels to recognize and call out both subtle and overt manifestations of inequity as they occur. Second, we should counteract bias by incorporating explicit evidence based anti-sexist training for individuals at all levels. Importantly, such trainings would not only focus on removing pre-existing biases, but also impart the skills necessary to oppose social and cultural norms that perpetuate inequity. Third, those in position of power, within academic medicine- many of whom are men- can be asked to unequivocally support efforts that attempt to counteract gender inequity. We all have our roles to play in local transformation within our institutions.

To conclude, Michael Foucalt, one of the foremost French thinkers of 20th century, write that women has always been man’s dependant and the two sexes have never shared world in equality. Man-the-sovereign would provide women-the-liege with material protection but she must accept the moral constraints of confinement. According to Foucalt, women’s empowerment consists of refusing these confinements. Unless women throw out the shackles which ignore their talent and skills, women cannot be empowered.

About the author

Hi, my name is Akshara Singh and I am a 2nd year student at Baroda Medical College, Baroda, India. I am an active member of Medical Student Association of India (MSAI). Academically speaking, my topic of interests are pathology and surgery. I like reading and writing a lot. I also play badminton and do yoga on a daily basis as I believe that we need to go out and do other activities as well to keep ourselves healthy- both mentally and physically. I think medicine is a very pious profession and we can help thousands of people. I want to make the whole world a better place to live in for everyone.

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