Women and Medicine: A Late Story

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Leticia Lourenço Botelho, a Brazilian medical student of the Valença School of Medicine, in Rio de Janeiro. 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.


A lot has been said when it comes to discussing women’s role in Medicine, especially in the past couple of years. The unequal access throughout history is undeniable and reflects a society based on misogyny and prejudice towards women.

Through the decades, the history of women in the Medical Society has always repeated itself all over the world. Women have been facing challenges determined merely by their gender, underestimating their intellectual capacity and potential.

When analyzing the historic evolution of Medicine, it’s easy to acknowledge how women used to be excluded. During the Middle Ages, women who had any kind of involvement with medical science, were condemned to death. In the Renaissance, women’s beauty was overestimated and their intellect underestimated. The nineteenth century still considered women fit for home and procreative duties only, maintaining a relatively low percentage of female physicians. The twentieth century, on the other hand, brought the need to expand the boundaries of Medicine, due to World War One, including more women in the Medical Society1.

In Brazil, for example, the first woman to ever receive a Medical Degree was Rita Lobato Velho Lopes, in 1887, defending her thesis “Parallel between established methods of C-section” 2. The evolution of women’s participation in Medicine, in Brazil, can be confirmed analyzing the data available: In 1960, women represented only 12,99% of physicians. In 2010, 39,81%. Clearly, there’s still a lot to be done in order to keep increasing these numbers and to reach equality in the Medical field, but the improvements noted so far are a good sign that society is changing3.

Another important example of the prejudice faced by women in the 19th century is Elizabeth Blackwell. Elizabeth was the first woman in the United States to receive a Medical Degree. She was discouraged by male physicians and other students all through her academic years, reporting: “I had not the slightest idea of the commotion created by my appearance as a medical student in the little town I afterwards found that I had so shocked Geneva propriety that the theory was fully established either that I was a bad woman, whose designs would gradually become evident, or that, being insane, an outbreak of insanity would soon be apparent” 4.

            In today’s society, women occupy an important percentage in Medicine, showing an even more important inclination towards equality. Nevertheless, there are still lots of challenges to be faced in order to reach the main goal of full equality. One of the challenges yet to be faced is the role taken by women when it comes to raising families and maintaining the household. Society still assigns to women the full responsibility of their families, while male physicians do not share equally this obligation. Another challenge is the gender-related prejudice within certain specialties, such as neurology and orthopedics5.

            Thus, it can be concluded that women have been facing all kinds of prejudice through the centuries and that, now, the equality we so desperately seek for, is getting closer.

References

  1. Kletke PR, Marder WD, Silberger AB. The growing proportion of female physicians: implications for US physician supply. Am J Public Health 1990;80(3):300-4.
  2. Women in Medicine: A History of Achievements. (2021, March 08). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from ProDoctor: https://prodoctor.net/blog/presenca-das-mulheres-na-medicina-historia-de-conquistas/
  3. Brazilian Female Doctors Throughout History. (2013). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from Revista Bioética.
  4. History of Women in Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from The University of Alabama at Birmingham: https://www.uab.edu/medicine/diversity/initiatives/women/history
  5. Mobilos, S., Chan, M., & Brown, J. B. (2008). Women in medicine: the challenge of finding balance. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien54(9), 1285–1286.e5.

About the author

The author’s name is Leticia Lourenço Botelho, a Brazilian medical student of the Valença School of Medicine, in Rio de Janeiro. Currently, she is in the second year of college. Leticia has always loved writing, using it as a way of expressing her thoughts.

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