Female doctors throughout times

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Maria L. C. Meurer, a 4th year medical student of UNINGÁ and a member of IFMSA Brazil. 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.


We can refer to the female presence in medicine since antiquity, such as the Egyptian goddess Isis, who received many requests for healing, and the Babylonian goddess of medicine: Gula. From a historical perspective, women were present as healers and midwives. However, the Middle Ages were a period marked by constant involvement of the Church and the State, so basic rights, such as education and participation in politics, were denied to women. For a long time, activities such as medicine, politics and military careers were exclusively for men, but this did not stop the interest of women in fighting for their rights. 

The old ban on women from studying and practicing medicine was not enough for many of them to do so anonymously, at the risk of suffering threats and imprisonment. In Brazil, for example, it was from 1969 that a growing increase in the number of female doctors began to occur and today it is women who have a predominance in the profession. This does not mean that all barriers have been broken, however, it demonstrates that most of them have been overcome, equaling in skills, focus and prestige in the profession.

We have a great disparity between the number of men and women in General Surgery, even though the female interest in the specialty is equal to the male, however, there are many factors that women take into consideration when choosing their area of ​​expertise, such as motherhood and marriage. Furthermore, even today women have to overcome numerous obstacles when choosing surgery, such as gender bias. Society and capitalism produce contradiction by causing intellectual insecurity and low self-esteem in women and valuing physical strength, manual skills and intelligence, which are decisive for success as a surgeon. Therefore, the lack of female protagonists in General Surgery leads to little or no indignation.

From a social perspective, men are able to pass on more confidence than a woman and characteristics in the male personality, such as self-confidence and self-control, are applauded, while generating strangeness when they are linked to the female personality. Therefore, the obstacles are greater for women who wish to become surgeons and there are many contributing factors, such as lack of female protagonism and subsequent insecurity and lack of institutional support for doctors who are mothers. 

This way, despite the countless difficulties still found in medical schools, at work and in society as a whole, difficulties that may be due to, for example, motherhood, the persistence in overcoming stereotypes and above all, the strength in the struggle for equity makes women today have a leading role in medicine and so, through education we can continue to break down barriers and create a more upright world, as William Butler pointed out “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire ”.

About the author

Maria L. C. Meurer is a 4th year medical student of UNINGÁ and a member of IFMSA Brazil. She is interested in human rights and medicine and her hobbies include reading and participating in extension activities from her university. Ana C. Z. Figueiredo is a 3rd year medical student of UNINGÁ in Maringá, Brazil. She is a member of the International Federation of Medical Students Association in Brazil (IFMSA-Brazil), also, she is a feminist activist and is interested in subjects as politics, feminism and human rights.

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