Medical students: catalysts to close the gender gap

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Elissa A. ABI FADEL, a 6th year medical school at the Lebanese University, and practicing her internship in Lebanese hospital Geitaoui. 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.


Although major strides were made around the world- in legislative, economical, social, educational, management and many other fields- aiming to close the gender gap, change is coming in an uneven way, moving at a pace that is too slow. For instance, 75% of management and leader positions are given to men.190 million women unwilling to bear a child are not using contraceptive. (1-3) Adding that covid-19 lockdown has led to a 30% increase in domestic violence despite the fact that 70% of health and social workers during corona virus are women. (2) As  the UN is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Beijing declaration, and since closing gender gap has been put as the 5th goal and major catalyst in order to achieve sustainable development, accelerating the progress in order to reach gender equality must be held as a priority.(1)

Despite the fact that women like Elizabeth Blackwell, Marie Curie, Gerty Cori and many others have paced their way remarkably among history of medicine; gender disparity in medical field has not been spared. According to the AAMC, while women represented 46% of applicants to medical schools, only 21% were full time professors, 15% were department chairs, and 16% held dean’s position. (4) Based on a Harvard review (5), many factors are holding women back from taking part at leadership in the medical institute such as the lack of promotions, publications, grants, mentors, given to highly qualified women in comparison to their male peers. Adding the fact that they are less paid. Moreover, many universities penalize women at their child-rearing years and medical centers are unsupportive to childrearing, caretaking, lactation, and motherhood. Not to mention that according to a study conducted by generation X academic doctors in the United States, 30% of women had experienced sexual harassment.

As a Lebanese medical student, I would like to point the finger on the Lebanese population’s perspective. The MOPH states that almost 80% of the healthcare force system in Lebanon is held by women as this field is perceived to well suit the woman nurturing and caring nature. Nevertheless gender appears to affect the choice of specialization (6). For example, less than 0.5% of surgeons are women. Male surgeons are preferred as they are perceived as stronger and more trustworthy. (7) As for one study demonstrated that Lebanese’s choice of doctor was based upon gender rather than experience. (8)

For all what has been said above and many more, it is crucial to inaugurate the important role of medical students in the road of closing gender gap. Starting by, raising more awareness campaigns about contraceptive use, sexual abuse, and psychological support is a must. Then, aim for rising the voice and asking for laws and quotas that protect women’s rights in receiving the same support, management positions, salaries and opportunities as men based on their knowledge, experience and devotion rather than their gender. Plus, valuing and respecting woman for her motherhood role and supporting her during child rearing age instead of penalizing her. Furthermore, look forward “destereotyping” specialization; for it wouldn’t be amazing to see a woman orthopedic surgeon? And why is it okay for a man to become a gynecologist, but not okay for a woman to pursue a career in urology?  Last and not least, everyone, including medical students, should work upon accelerating the role of women not only by quantity but by quality and equal rights and opportunities for us to reach a better and sustainable future.

References:

  1. UN75. 2020. Shaping our future together. Women and girls- closing the gender gap.
  2. UN, SDGS. 2020. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.  The sustainable development goals report, page 12.
  3. UN women.2020. Gender equality women’s rights in review 25 years after Beijing. Digital library.
  4. Diana M. Lautenberger, M.A.T., Valerie M. Dandar, M.A., Claudia L. Raezer, and Rae Anne Sloane.2014. The State of Women in Academic Medicine.AAMC.
  5. Christina Mangurian, Eleni Linos, Urmimala Sarkar, Carolyn Rodriguez and Reshma Jagsi.2018. What’s Holding Women in Medicine Back from Leadership.Harvard business review.
  6. Hayfaa A. Tlaiss.2013. Women in Healthcare: Barriers and Enablers from a Developing Country Perspective. International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 2013, 1(1), 23-33.
  7. Abdul Halim N, Beaineh P, Fenianos M, Gebran S, Msheik A, Sharara S, Nabulsi M. Preferences of Lebanese adults for the gender of their surgeons: a cross-sectional study. East Mediterr Health J. 2020 May 21;26(5):573-579.
  8. Waseem M, Ryan M. “Doctor” or “doctora”: do patients care? Pediatric Emergency Care. 2005 Aug;21(8):515-517.

About the author

Elissa A. ABI FADEL, 23 years old woman. She is currently attending 6th year medical school at the Lebanese University, and practicing her internship in Lebanese hospital Geitaoui. Activist in social work, certified for attending and organizing many medical and social workshops and current member of IFMSA, and Lebanese Association of Medical Services for Addiction (LAMSA). But most importantly, she tends to share her big interest in art and music, since being a professional pianist with a baccalaureate degree earned from the Lebanese National Higher conservatory of music. Thus, she aims is to merge between medicine, which she sees as the art of the human mind and body, and music, which is the art of the soul, in order to help achieving a masterpiece of every human that comes through her way.

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