Women’s leadership: has the gender gap completely broken?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Karla Anabel Quichimbo Contreras, a medical student from Cuenca, 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.

During the middle ages, Christianity dissemination, throughout Europe, relegated women’s role in a lot of areas of the feudal society; the religious beliefs marked women like objects and rejected them by their impure nature (1). At the time the academic institutions banned women’s entry, limiting their contributions to the sciences (2); the exception was Salerno, the only medical college in Europe that opened its doors to females (3,4).

In the early 1800s, the position of women slowly shifted, to the point where Elizabeth Blackwell was accepted into Geneva Medical College in 1849, becoming the first woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S. (5).  The number of women physicians grew slowly, averaging around 6% of the medical workforce for the first two-thirds of the 20th century.  Nevertheless, the proportion of female physicians in European countries was superior to the U.S.; one of the main facts attributed to this lowest representation of women in the medical workforce was the barriers created by the Medical institutions that limited the number of females admitted (6).

The representation of women in the medical field modestly increased and their presence became more and more relevant over the years. Their contribution took an important place in knowledge construction and their findings would be recognized with a Nobel Prize; Gerty Theresa Cori was the first female that received this award in the medical area in 1947. Then, other brilliant women obtained the same recognition for their scientific input, like Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (1977), Linda B. Buck (2004), Tu Youyou (2015); but, counting the total of Nobel laureates in Medicine, 221, only twelve were women (7).

In the late 60s, as the revival of the feminist movement gained notoriety, the number of females admitted to different institutions quickly increased. The proportion by 1990 was 40% and by 2000 it was about 50% (8). Actually, the gender gap is relatively closed, because of the feminization of the medical workforce, which now represents approximately 75%. However, the inequality remains latent (8).

In medicine, imbalances persist in the participation of specialist training, and women remain the minority in surgical or radiological specialties (8,9). The gender disparities are notorious in scientific publications and authorship. Multiple investigations have shown that in medical society boards and journal editorial boards, the proportion of women is only 17%; in parallel, female leadership is substantially under-represented in these boards and other institutions like universities and medical schools (10); Don’t forget the pay gap, which negatively affects women who receive lower wages (8).

Even though the representation of women in the medical field has raised, the gender gap, in other aspects (especially in leadership), is still latent. Over the years a lot of brave women have built a path to equity in the middle of a male chauvinist society. The inequalities that still exist, don’t mean that their efforts were in vain, otherwise, this means that society has to fight to break the gender gap and thus reach the maximum development of science.


1.        Sabatini S. Women, medicine and life in the Middle Ages (500-1500 AD). Am J Nephrol. 1994;14(4–6):391–8.

2.        Minkowski WL. Women healers of the middle ages: Selected aspects of their history. Am J Public Health. 1992;82(2):288–95.

3.        Ferraris ZA, Ferraris VA. The women of salerno: Contribution to the origins of surgery from medieval Italy. Ann Thorac Surg. 1997;64(6):1855–7.

4.        Debrah A. Wirtzfeld. The History of Women in Surgery (nur pdf, citation aus anderem!). Can J Surg [Internet]. 2007;52(4):317–20. Available from: http://www.usgtf.com/articles/winter10/page22.html

5.        Moore W. Trailblazing women in medicine: laurels at last for Edinburgh Seven. Lancet [Internet]. 2019;394(10195):294–5. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)31565-X

6.        Ludmerer KM. Seeking Parity for Women in Academic Medicine: A Historical Perspective. Acad Med. 2020;95(10):1485–7.

7.       Vereckey B. The 57 women who have won the Nobel Prize [Internet]. Stacker. 2020 [cited 2021 Mar 19]. Available from: https://stacker.com/stories/1709/48-women-who-have-won-nobel-prize

8.        Shannon G, Jansen M, Williams K, Cáceres C, Motta A, Odhiambo A, et al. Gender equality in science, medicine, and global health: where are we at and why does it matter? Lancet [Internet]. 2019;393(10171):560–9. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)33135-0

9.        Fichera G, Busch IM, Rimondini M, Motta R, Giraudo C. Is empowerment of female radiologists still needed? Findings of a systematic review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(4):1–16.

10.      Nocco SE, Larson AR. Promotion of Women Physicians in Academic Medicine. J Women’s Heal. 2020;00(00):1–8.

About the author

Karla Anabel Quichimbo Contreras born on February, 20th, 2001 in Cuenca, Ecuador. She studied in “Tres de Noviembre” School from she was seven until fourteen years old.  Then, she continued her studies in High School “Ciudad de Cuenca” where she attended The Diploma Programme of the International Baccalaureate. In 2018 she graduated with the international bachelor’s degree. In 2020 she was admitted to the “Universidad de Cuenca” to study medicine, and actually, she is in the second year of the career.

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