The fight for female medical leadership

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Ana Carolina Mandu Coimbra de Souza Mendes and Ms. Isabela Assis de Carvalho, two 3rd year medical student at Unicesumar University, Brazil. 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.

Throughout history, women have had a restricted role in the private sphere, which was evidenced in the 1950s by the article entitled “The Good Wife’s Guide” published in the Housekeeping Monthly magazine, which described how a woman should act with exclusive focus on the care of the house, children and husband. From the 19th century onward, along with industrialization, women began to question their social identity and the authority of men, and joined the corporate world, which was predominantly male until then, and had to prove that they were as capable and competent as men to assume positions of leadership within the job market.

In the medical field there was no difference, since it was always considered a “male” area. Although medical schools in the Middle Ages admitted women in the program, there were always difficulties in accessing universities. It was only in the last few decades that the gender gap that remained for centuries about the entry of women into the medical profession was broken. Medicine has moved from a male-dominated profession to a context in which new entrants are predominantly women.

Although women have conquered significant space in medicine, Bourdieu warns of the phenomenon of permanence within change, since the structure of the distances between what is valued and what is not within the relationship of domination between the sexes remains despite the changes. When a profession becomes feminized, male evasion occurs in parallel, thus making evident the persistence of gender discrimination deeply rooted in medical culture, which keeps women from acquiring an equal footing.

The greater number of women in medical universities does not translate into more women occupying decision-making positions within the medical profession. This phenomenon can be seen in Brazil, where the presidency and all vice-presidencies in both the Federal Council of Medicine and the Brazilian Medical Association are occupied by men. Studies show segregations limiting women from ascending through the medical career, by hindering their entrance in some areas of expertise and, even when inserted in high positions, women face numerous barriers to their acceptance because of gender.

Furthermore, women have less decision-making power in the current pandemic scenario. This is a contradictory fact since women are on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19, representing about 70% of the workforce. They also stand out in research, such as physician Ester Sabino, who leads a group of researchers from the University of São Paulo who have deployed a method to reveal the genetic sequencing of the new coranavirus in a record time of 48 hours.

That said, institutions will have to develop measures to increase female leadership, such as counseling to overcome the barriers of professional progression, thus helping women to meet their career need, benefit from recognition and be satisfied with professional life. Developing a strategic career plan, including effective gender equality and equal pay policies are other measures that must be taken in order for women to increase their leadership roles.


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About the author

Ana Carolina Mandu Coimbra de Souza Mendes, 3rd year medical student at Unicesumar University, participates in a scientific project, member and director of education of the Academic League of Coloproctology (LACP) and member of the Academic League of Family and Community Medicine (LAMFaC). Isabela Assis de Carvalho, 3rd year medical student at Unicesumar University, participates in a scientific project with a scholarship from PIBIC-FA, member and research director of the Academic League of Intensive Care Medicine of Maringá, member of the Academic League of Pediatrics of Maringá. Both are local coordinator of IFMSA Brazil UniCesumar.

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  1. To understand the role of gender in health leadership, it is important to first. I drive myself harder to go and fix it, pushing me to be the best I can be to fight against inequity. The fight for gender equity is everyone’s responsibility, and this means.

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