The roots and effects of the gender gap in medicine on current and future female doctors

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Esther Perinni, a 18 years 1th year medical student at Vila Velha University. 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.

In the Middle Age, women who praticed medicine were pejoratively called healers, some were even condemed to death. It’s worth of mention that, even with the advent of universities in the 12th century, only men could graduate, considering that the role assigned to women was restricted to wife and mother. Over time, there was a change of scenery more accentuated in the 1899 Germany, where the feminist movement emerged and caused 400 women to apply to medical schools. Therewithal, after the need for women in the medical field during the First and Second World War, women gradually gained their place until the current feminization of medicine.

Data show that the number of women entering medical schools is much higher than men’s, what has become more visible in the last 20 years. It’s undoubtedly the fact that this growing rate is due to the global feminist movements of the last century, in which women struggled over prejudices and sexist ideas, in order to gain their space in the market.

The bravery of all women who embraced the medical career is admirable, even when the discrimination used to occur before entering the academic field. As the number of women entering medical schools increases, prejudice within the profession remains, which leads to a large gender gap. According to statistics, one of the main divergences between men and women in the medical sphere is in the choice of specialty. This choice, for a female doctor, involves a big fator: the balance bewteen professional, social and familly expectations, especially the issue of motherhood. That’s why women seek more malleable specialties during residency and working hours, which explains the notable absence of women in surgical areas.

The visible barrier in the search of gender equality in medicine is the difficulty of bulding a family during the years of residency. During this period, women begun to dedicate themselves to motherhood, being forced to give up the opportunity, which jeopardizes specialization. If measures are not taken, this, in a long run, will result in a lack of specialists.

Thus, it isn’t enough to just dissirt about the chasm between men and women in medicine, the search for ways to eliminate it’s the paramount. Many universities across the globe have adopted measures as policies to encourage gender equality and diversity in the faculty of institutions. Another strategy adopted by institutions in the USA, England and Canada is the “part-time married women’s training scheme”, a residency program that allows mothers the possibility of studying and do part-time internship. Another strategy is to create policies that help doctors balance work and motherhood, such and full daycare centers close to work and lactation rooms.

To eliminate gender gaps in medicine, changes in the medical culture of teaching and administrative staff of the institutions are essential. Those changes are heppening progressively, which leads to the prospect of a cuture overcoming of the gender abyss in medicine.


ÁVILA, Rebeca Contrera. Formação das mulheres nas escolas de medicina. Revista Brasileira de Educação Médica, v. 38, n. 1, p. 142–149, 2014. Avaliable at: <;. Access on: 23 Mar. 2021.

ÚRSULA NEVES. Número de mulheres na Medicina aumenta, mas salário é inferior ao dos homens – PEBMED. PEBMED. Avaliable at: <;. Access on: 23 Mar. 2021.

About the author

Esther Perinni is 18 years old in Brazil and she is a 1th year medical student at Vila Velha University. She’s a member of IFMSA Brazil, where she’s part of the Human Rights Committee (SCORP).  

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