The feminization of medicine in Brazil and the current need to combat gender stereotypes in relation to medical specialties

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Beatriz Alvarez Mattar, a medical student at Faculdade Evangélica Mackenzie do Paraná, Brazil and Ms. Alicia Batista de Almeida Barbos, a medical student at Universidade Estadual do Centro Oeste do Paraná. They are affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


In these first 20 years of the 21st century, it is undeniable that the so-called feminization of medicine was a reality in industrialized countries, which represents one of the biggest changes in the medical profession. In developing countries, such as Brazil, this trend repeats. Results show, since 2009, there are more women than men among the new doctors registered, although, among working professionals, men still predominate. This representativeness, however, is not present mainly in the surgical specialties and Orthopedics and Traumatology, considered as traditionally masculine.

The growing female participation in medicine is a reflection of their greater entry into Brazilian medical universities, with the number of women entering being higher than men for more than 12 years. There is also a projection of balance in the population structure of the profession between genders until 2028, with women already being the majority among the youngest: 58.5% in the group up to 29 years old and 55.3% in the range of 30 to 34 years old. Besides, they are the majority in five of the six specialties considered basic: Pediatrics (70.0%), Gynecology and Obstetrics (51.5%), Internal Medicine (54.2%), Family and Community Medicine (54.2 %), and Preventive Medicine (50.3%).

However, the 2020 rates of Medical Demography in Brazil, in which they analyze the 55 medical specialties in the country, women represent a majority in only 19 of them. In addition, they are an absolute minority in specialties considered to be more masculine – as they are associated with the need for greater strength and physical resistance, longer training, and the demand for greater time availability – which is the case of Urology (2.3%), Orthopedics and Traumatology (6.5%), Neurosurgery (8.8%) and Thoracic Surgery (10.4%). These data demonstrate the difficulty of dissociating the profession from patriarchy and the supposed “female nature”, which considers the “ethics of care”, close to the performance of women, and the “ethics of justice”, typically male. This is due to the multiple influences the process of choosing a specialty suffers, including from social bases of origin that can project in the profession a supposed domestic space for the woman, promoting this gender disparity in several areas, mainly in the 13 surgical areas of medical residency.

Therefore, despite the feminization of medicine, the perpetuation of oppression over female doctors is still systemic. It is a consequence of social and institutional practices that act to encourage, sometimes unintentionally, gender stereotypes that hinder women’s access to areas of higher remuneration and social recognition. Thus, to defend women from this mentality, new theoretical contributions from bioethics are necessary to understand historical changes and to avoid the imbalances of power that exist throughout society. Based on critical bioethics, the inclusion of gender indicators in medical demography studies may offer a better overview of the asymmetries in force in the exercise of the medical profession.

References

SCHEFFER, M. et al., Demografia Médica no Brasil 2020. São Paulo, SP: FMUSP, CFM, 2020. 312 p. ISBN: 978-65-00-12370-8

About the authors

Beatriz has been a student at Faculdade Evangélica Mackenzie do Paraná since 2019. She is a current resident of Curitiba (Brazil) and has been affiliated to IFMSA Brazil FEMPAR since the beginning of 2020.

Alicia has been a student at Universidade Estadual do Centro Oeste do Paraná since 2020. She currently resides in Guarapuava (Brazil) and participates in medical humanities initiatives.

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