Gender inequities in the medical field: an urgent issue

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. María Teresa Ferri, a third-year medical student from Ecuador. 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.

Try to explain this: “a father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” (1)

When this experiment was done in 197 psychology students in Boston University and in 103 children between 7 and 17 years, only 14 and 15% of them, respectively, answered that the mother was the surgeon (1). Does this statistic tell you something?

Here is another one, according to a survey directed by Medscape in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Brazil, and Mexico; the gender pay gap is around 20-29% (2). Any guessing of which group is being underpaid?

Women around the world, are constantly facing inequities in their work environment because of their gender. It has been demonstrated that women are more severely judged when making ethical mistakes. This was proven by a quick experiment on which a group of people were asked to judge a hospital administrator who committed an unethical action; it turned out that if the person had a male name, the sentence was 80 days and if the person had a female name, the sentence was 130 days (2). It is also important to mention, the fact that as job positions hierarchy are higher, the percentage of women in charge drops. In 2014 the AAMC reported that 46% of residents were females, while only 21% were professors and only 16% deans (3). Another aspect worth mentioning is what Dr. Nancy Baxter, a colorectal surgeon in Toronto recalls. She says that women are more likely to receive simple and lower-paid procedures if compared to men, who tend to receive complex procedures that not only make them earn more money but also respect (2). She also mentions that women tend to be more patient when dealing with certain cases who need extra time; therefore, these cases are often referred to them (2). The problem here is that women are not compensated for the extra time because payment is based on the patient, not by time.

Operation Smile, a nonprofit medical organization that provides safe surgeries to children with cleft lip or cleft palate all around the world, performed its first international medical mission with only women personnel. This mission took part in Oujda, Morocco, where around 50 medical volunteers provided 130 surgeries for the children in need. At the end of the mission, some interesting conclusions were obtained; 73% of the women who could not find a mentor in their country, found one in the mission and 100% were inspired to mentor women in their country (4). The simplicity of having a safe working environment where they feel supported and equal, inspired these women to not only continue to grow professionally but also to help other women grow as well.

Do you know when do we expect to close the gender wage gap in the United States? In the year 2059 (5). It is time to change this reality, it’s time for women.


1.        Barlow R. BU Research: A Riddle Reveals Depth of Gender Bias. [Internet]. Boston University. 2014. Available from:

2.        Boesveld S. What’s driving the gender pay gap in medicine? Vol. 192, CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale  canadienne. 2020. p. E19–20.

3.        Allen RM. Gender Inequality in Medicine: Too Much Evidence to Ignore. Psychiatric Times. 2017;

4.        Munabi DN. Going Far Together: A Future for Women in Health Care Around the World. Operation Smile. 2020.

5.        Donner F, Goldberg E. In 25 Years, the Pay Gap Has Shrunk by Just 8 Cents. The New York Times [Internet]. 2021; Available from:

About the author

María Teresa Ferri is a third-year medical student from Ecuador, she works with the local medical student’s association in the education committee. She has been a volunteer at Operation Smile for 9 years and is currently representing Ecuador on Student Program’s Latin American leadership team. She has been in the two International Leadership Conferences for Students (Italy and Paraguay). Her long-term aspiration is to be part of the medical Operation Smile staff; and to work with other non-profit organizations helping people in need. She also wants to keep growing in the medical field and keep educating and working on human rights issues as well. 

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  1. We will situate the Lancet women theme issue in the context of global …We are gender as a cross-cutting issue alongside other sources of inequity in health, such as poverty, age, ethnic diversity.

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