The feminisation of medicine and persistence of stereotypes

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Heloisa Maria Perez Santos, a third year medical student and Ms. Pietra Cavalhero Alves, a second year medical student at Faculdade de Ciências da Saúde de Barretos, 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 writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

In several studies, the feminization of medicine has been indicated as one of the changes that most impact the medical profession. Even though, in the last decade, woman represent the majority of medical school vacancies and most of the new registrations in the RCM, they still suffer negative impacts due to the existence of sexist stereotypes and gender discrimination.

What is called “man” and “woman” is not only a product of biological sexuality, but also of social relations based on different structures of power, given that, in a political-economic dimension, there is, on the one hand, the division between paid productive work and unpaid reproductive and domestic work and, on the other hand, there is a division within paid work between better professionalized and paid occupations, dominated by men, and less specialized and underpaid occupations, dominated by women.

The reproductive capacity of women influences thoughts such as that women should seek more flexible specializations to reconcile with family life. Therefore, motherhood is the first visible dilemma in the career path of women, especially when it coincides with the peak of their professional productivity, between thirty and forty years of age. Although it is unusual for doctors to abandon their careers to care for their children, what is expected is that they will choose working conditions compatible with their new reality and this implies the choice of medical residencies that fit the new situation and places that offer resources to develop your family.

Studies indicate that, in addition to the reproductive issue, which includes the reduced availability of time and the difficulty of coordinating professional practices with family life, the need for greater strength and resistance are also among the main reasons that keep women away from certain specialties, especially the surgical ones and those that attend urgency and emergency, like orthopedics, which tend to be better paid and in which men predominate. In this sense, the choice of Brazilian woman doctors is for basic specialties over surgical ones, since, in general surgery, their representativeness is low.

This higher incidence of women in basic specialties is evident in Brazil, seeing that they are the majority in five of the six specialties considered basic: Pediatrics (70.0%), Gynecology and Obstetrics (51.5%), Clinical Medicine (54. 2%), Family and Community Medicine (54.2%) and Preventive Medicine (50.3%). They are also the majority in Endocrinology and Metabology, Medical Genetics, Hematology and Hemotherapy, Homeopathy, Infectious Diseases and Pathology. Men, on the other hand, represents more than 80% in 13 of the 53 specialties, including nine surgical specialties. Of the six specialties in which men are 90.0% or more, four are surgical, thus showing the persistence of divergence between genders.

So, as much as the progressive decrease in gender differences is evident due to the removal of barriers that prevent women from having the same access as men to education, job opportunities and social benefits, there are still sexist stereotypes and gender discrimination that generate impasses to guarantee gender equity in the field of health.


1.   SCHEFFER, Mário César; CASSENOTE, Alex Jones Flores. A feminização da medicina no Brasil. Rev. Bioét.,  Brasília ,  v. 21, n. 2, p. 268-277,  Aug.  2013 .   Available from <;. access on  24  Mar.  2021.

2.      AVILA, Rebeca Contrera. Formação das mulheres nas escolas de medicina. Rev. bras. educ. med.,  Rio de Janeiro ,  v. 38, n. 1, p. 142-149,  Mar.  2014 .   Available from <;. access on  24  Mar.  2021.

About the authors

Heloisa Maria Perez Santos is a third year medical student in Brasil, at Faculdade de Ciências da Saúde de Barretos – Dr. Paulo Prata.

She is a member of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA) in which she participated and helped in the organization of some projects. Also, she has a scientific initiation in progress.

She likes to research, learn and develop knowledge. Academically, she is interested in general surgery and cardiology.

Pietra Cavalhero Alves is a second year medical student in Brazil, at Faculdade de Ciências da Saúde de Barretos.

She, besides the interest in general surgery and neurology , believes that social inclusion and gender equity are required resources to reach humanization in the healthy area.

Also, she is interested in learning and developing knowledge.

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