The gender gap in medicine: why must it be closed?

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Maria Clara Jorge Rodrigues, fifth period medical student at Centro Universitário do Planalto Central Apparecido dos Santos – UNICEPLAC. 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.


It is known that until the ’60s, medicine in Brazil was mostly occupied by men. From the ‘70s, women were finally given a space in the medical schools, which has been growing since then. Thereafter, the feminization of medicine has triggered great changes in this professional category but also has opened our eyes to an issue that has been here for a long time. Gender discrimination is seen clearly when we analyze the gender gap that exists in the medical field. Accordingly, women represent 45,6% of all 452.801 medical professionals in Brazil and are still less present in leadership positions on boards. Thereby, this obstacle has to be solved so that we can have gender equality within the healthcare system.

First, the gender rift appears in the community as walls that prevent women from growing in their careers equally compared to men. For instance, these barriers can be shown in the wage gap between genders with the same occupation, when companies avoid hiring women and discriminate mothers, recommending them for lower starting salaries and passing them over for promotions, and when there is a depreciation given to specialties with the female predominance. In addition to the last example, pediatrics and gynecology were the ones who suffered most from male evasion in Brazil, meanwhile, surgery, which has a male predominance and is categorized as a prestigious specialty, gets limited access from the woman.

Concerning these discrimination barriers, the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, from studies on this social issue, explains that when a profession or position becomes feminized it gets abandoned by man. Therefore, this occupation has less value and it is given less worth than it was when the male figure was predominant. Thus, when it is guided by man it has more empowerment and assurance, yet when a woman is in control there is no credit nor belief according to society.

Following, it is past the time that we as a community move from reporting the ongoing gender discrimination in the healthcare system to make effective changes and break longstanding thought patterns. Hence, it is up to the medical societies to spearhead this paradigm shift so that opportunities are similar for everyone. Subsequently, having seen that the cardiology specialty is being occupied mostly by men the Brazilian Society of Hemodynamics and Interventional Cardiology created the group Interventional Women (“Mulheres Intervencionistas”, MINT in Portuguese), to encourage physicians to choose Cardiology, to increase the chances of gender equality within the specialty.

In summary, prejudice is a form of violence, which can be expressed concerning several characteristics such as gender. Consequently, sexism cannot but be analyzed as one of the factors that discourage women in medical careers. After all, gender equity is not only a matter of justice and rights but crucial to producing the best research and providing the best patient care. Therefore, the empowerment of women in medicine is a necessary path towards the humanization of practices and knowledge, explaining why the gender gap must be closed.

References

  1. Warner, A. S., & Lehmann, L. S. (2019). Gender Wage Disparities in Medicine: Time to Close the Gap. Journal of general internal medicine, 34(7), 1334–1336. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-04940-9
  1. Lemke, Viviana Guzzo. (2019). Gender Equity in Healthcare: An Issue of Justice or Need?. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, 113(2), 299. Epub September 02, 2019. https://dx.doi.org/10.5935/abc.20190168
  1. Ávila, Rebeca Contrera. (2014). Formação das mulheres nas escolas de medicina. Revista Brasileira de Educação Médica, 38(1), 142-149. https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0100-55022014000100019

About the author

Maria Clara Jorge Rodrigues, fifth period medical student at Centro Universitário do Planalto Central Apparecido dos Santos – UNICEPLAC, affiliated to IFMSA BRAZIL UNICEPLAC, marketing director of the homeopathy league of Uniceplac, member of the pediatric oncology league of the Federal District. Constantly searching for ways to improve herself in her academic and personal life. Passionate about movies and music.

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