Women in leadership: closing the gender gap in medicine

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Camila Medranda, a third-year medical student at “Facultad Ciencias de la Salud Eugenio Espejo” of Equinoctial University of Technology (UTE), Quito, Ecuador. She is 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 writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

“Women are ultimately the key to development” Desmond Tutu

If we go back in time, we will find stories of women who have influenced the development of medicine.

Women who dared to take the first steps: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Britain’s first female doctor, Matilde Hidalgo Ecuadorian´s first female doctor, Anandi Gopal Joshi first Indian female doctors, Fe Villanueva del Mundo the first female student at Harvard Medical School who do pioneering work on infectious diseases including dengue, or Anne Szarewski one of the first to develop an understanding of the link between the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer, leading to the first-ever HPV vaccine. 1, 2, 3

Women awarded for their discoveries as Rosalyn Yalow (1977) for development of radioimmunoassay of peptide hormones and prove that type 2 diabetes is caused by the body’s inefficient use of insulin; Gertrude Elion (1988) for a new, more rational approach to drug development for the treatment of various diseases (leukemia, herpes, malaria, gout, AIDS); Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (2008) for the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus; Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Carol W. Greider (2009) for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase; Tu Youyou (2015) for her discoveries concerning a novel therapy against Malaria and Jennifer Doudna (2020) for the development of a method for genome editing, which opens the investigation of innovative treatments for diseases with high prevalence today, such as cancer. 4, 5

And many more women around the world who contribute to science, women who deserve to be seen and who in their struggle make their way to recognition.

In a current context women account for 70% of the health and social care workforce providing care to around 5 billion people. 6

However, despite the different achievements of women in medicine, according to statistical data presented by the World Health Organization in 2019, the reality of the working world shows something different, global health is predominantly led by men, 69% of global health organizations are headed by men and 80% of board chairs are men. Only 25% of women occupy hold leadership positions in health.6 Why?

The debatable idea that people should perform certain functions according to their gender have has been presented as a systemic barrier for women to advance in different professional careers worldwide, including health´s areas 6, resulting in a gender gap that does not it should exist because the role in society should be based on equal rights as professionals, equity and the absence of discrimination.

Women’s leadership is their power to inspire people and challenge the world to make a change. It comes from the strength that past generations have awakened in them to overcome social stereotypes that relate gender to professional ability.

Advancing women’s leadership does not stop and although still a long way to go, along with the development of a more equitable society, the objectives in this area will be met.  “Women have a really important role to play in the Word” Jennifer Doudna.


  1. World Health Organization. 2019. “Celebrating Women Leaders In Science And Health”. Who.Int. https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/celebrating-women-leaders-in-science-and-health.
  2. Ministerio Salud Pública Ecuador. 2019. “Matilde Hidalgo Abrió Las Puertas De Una Sociedad Equitativa En Ecuador – Ministerio De Salud Pública”. Salud.Gob.Ec. https://www.salud.gob.ec/matilde-hidalgo-abrio-las-puertas-de-una-sociedad-equitativa-en-ecuador/.
  3. Gulland, A. (2013). Anne Szarewski [pdf] (p. 26). Retrieved 19 March 2021, from https://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f5890.
  4. “The Nobel Prize | Women Who Changed Science”. 2021. Nobelprize.Org. Accessed March 19. https://www.nobelprize.org/womenwhochangedscience/stories.
  5. Xing, H., & Meng, L. (2019). CRISPR-cas9: a powerful tool towards precision medicine in cancer treatment [pdf]. Retrieved 19 March 2021, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41401-019-0322-9.
  6. Human Resources for Health Observer. (2019). Delivered by Women, Led by Men: A Gender and Equity Analysis of the Global Health and Social Workforce [pdf] (pp. 3, 5, 21). Retrieved 19 March 2021, from https://www.who.int/hrh/resources/health-observer24/en/.

About the author

Camila Medranda is third- year medical student at “Facultad Ciencias de la Salud Eugenio Espejo” of Equinoctial University of Technology (UTE), Quito, Ecuador. She is an active member of AEMPPI UTE. She did volunteer internships in “Centro de Investigación Genética y Genómica” (CIGG) of the University UTE. She is part of the scientific disclosure page Nova Scientia on Facebook. She was the author of the Article “Astigmatismo ¿Cómo nos afecta? A propósito de un caso ” in the magazine SPECTRUM- Cuenca in 2019.

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