Closing the gaps in accelerating women’s rights: the role of medical students

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Sharranya Ravichandran, a second year medical student at Government Medical College, Omandurar Estate in Chennai, 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.

Equality between men and women was a core tenet enshrined in the UN Charter in 1945. But , 75 years later, we live in a world of widespread gender inequality, and as the Secretary General has warned, “Change is coming at a pace that is too slow for the women and girls whose lives depend on it.”

A lack of women in leadership positions, a gender pay gap, stereotypes and self-confidence, all play a role in gender inequality in medicine. At the Inaugural Women in Medicine Symposium, Dr. Vineet Arora, MD, detailed these issues and discussed how women could be more empowered in the medical field. Looking at the data from the Association of American Medical Colleges, 46% applicants to medical school are women, but only one in five full professors are women and only 16% are deans.

A recent study in selected medical universities and hospitals in Germany, Sweden, Austria and the U.K., reveals that while the percentage of female medical students and doctors is now well within the 40-60% gender balance zones, women are less well-represented among specialists and remain significantly under-represented among senior doctors and full professors. The study also finds that gender inequality is stronger within academic enterprises than within hospital enterprises, and stronger in the middle management than at the top level.

Another report from the American Medical Association and AAMC finds that  male doctors dominate Orthopedic Surgery(85%), Neurological Surgery(82%) and Interventional Radiology(81%), and female doctors dominate Obstretics and Gynaecology(83%), Allergy and Immunology(74%) and Pediatrics(72%).

According to a paper by Dr. Mita Bhadra on Women in Medicine, women comprised more than 50% of medical college admissions in India, but the figure reduces to one third at PG and doctoral levels,  and only 17% of all allopathic doctors in India are women. Experts say this could be because women even today have to struggle to balance work and family responsibilities.

When we take an overview of the problems faced by the female doctors, we see that reinforcement of traditional gender roles, sexism and lack of effective mentoring are the problems that need to be tackled immediately. Suggested strategies for overcoming these obstacles include:

  • Creating supportive female networks among students and practitioners
  • Peer-mentoring
  • Using gender-sensitive language
  • Designing favourable working conditions

The importance of training medical students and professionals in gender analysis and gender-sensitive programming is suggested as a strategy towards achieving gender equality in health. Students should not be pressured directly or indirectly to enter particular specialities because of social expectations about the professional strengths or weaknesses of men and women.

Another aspect that deserves our attention (but not taken into consideration by analysts so far) is that girls are in general more “STUDIOUS” than boys, as can be seen by the results of higher secondary examinations: In India, every year more number of girls pass the examinations and more girls achieve higher ranks. So it is no wonder that more girls get medical college admission. But after entering the college, again, a majority of girl students continue to study books and score more marks , but fail to pick up practical skills. This is a serious problem that needs to be attended to by the professors. Not that all girls lack practical skills. In fact, in India, more than 85% of nurses are females and obviously they are highly skilled in day-to-day choirs requiring practical skills. So the female medical students must themselves take initiative to acquire all-round basic knowledge, including practical skills, before specializing in a particular field. It is also suggested that from among the highly skilled female nurses, a few ‘studious type’ women are encouraged to pursue a degree course in medicine, either through lateral entry or by a separate specially designed course.

To conclude, only A SINCERE EFFORT FROM ALL CONCERNED can help in closing the gaps in accelerating women’s rights in the medical field.

About the author

SHARRANYA RAVICHANDRAN is a second year medical student at GOVERNMENT MEDICAL COLLEGE, OMANDURAR ESTATE in Chennai, India. She is a member of the Medical Students Association of India (MSAI) as well as a member at the Global Consortium of Medical Education and Research (GCMER).Being a curious medico, she is interested in exploring different fields of medicine by doing research studies and gaining more knowledge from them. She is also a voracious speaker, having voluntarily hosted events at the MSAI, including ‘PANDAmic’, a National Campaign, with an aim to create awareness among medical students about the mental health and academic aspects of the coronavirus pandemic.

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