Women and leadership in Medicine: overcoming many barriers

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Rebeca Feitosa Dória Alves and Marianna Rodrigues Marques Dourado, two medical students in the third year of the course at Tirantes University, in Sergipe / 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.

The medical field is very selective in general. In Brazil, the doctor is still one of the highest paid and most socially supported professionals, which makes access to medical training quite limited and elite. In addition to these general cuts, the medical environment also receives the reflexes of a society of gender disparities.

For women, who throughout their lives have their capacity questioned and their skills inferior, it is necessary to overcome much higher barriers to enter the world of medicine and still face more difficulties to reach a leadership position within it.

Gender disparities within medicine are historical and built on the idea of ​​a patriarchal society. To understand how gender discrimination was present in this process, it is enough to analyze the historical journey of female conquests in Medicine.

In Brazil, women gained legal support to enter medical education in 1879, but, despite the law allowing the occupation of this space, the social barriers against this social advance were clear. In this context, cultural events were used as a tool for social pressure.

One of them was the play that took place in 1889, in Rio de Janeiro, entitled “As Doutoras”, with the intention of demotivating and ridiculing women to become doctors. With the advances of the feminist movement, mainly in the post-World War II context with women entering the labor market and consolidating their position as an important element for the economically active population, the scenario of women in Medicine has changed, at least in number.

This phenomenon, known as “Feminization of Medicine”, was observed worldwide. After the occupation of women in the spaces of Medicine, the next challenge is to consolidate their participation as a protagonist in their profession. For this to happen, it is necessary to break social cultural stigmas that are replicated in healthcare settings.

In interviews to enter a new job, women still receive questions about children and personal plans, while men who apply for the same job do not have to answer them. This makes it difficult for women to rise internally and influence their professional destiny. Another factor is that some specialties are fraught with prejudice.

A great example is the specialty General Surgery, made up of only a fifth of women, even with the increase in graduates in Medicine. In addition to these problems, there is still the question of wage disparity between men and women.

For this scenario to change, it is essential that women use their graduation and training as tools of struggle. Each woman needs to understand her potential for skills and learning and thus dissociate her from the social stigmas that have been imposed on her.

Supporting doctors, valuing their work and listening to their complaints is a big step towards greater female leadership in Medicine. In this way, the future will have more medical leaders in health, inspiring girls to grow and lead like them.


RAGO, Elisabeth Juliska. A ruptura do mundo masculino da medicina: médicas brasileiras no século XIX. cadernos pagu, n. 15, p. 199-225, 2000.

DOS SANTOS, Tania Steren. Gênero e carreira profissional na Medicina. Mulher e trabalho, v. 4, 2011.


PAULO, Daiane; DA SILVA ASSIS, Mariana; KREUGER, Maria Regina Orofino. Análise dos fatores que levam mulheres médicas a não optarem por especialidades cirúrgicas. Revista de Medicina, v. 99, n. 3, p. 230-235, 2020.

About the authors

Rebeca Feitosa Dória Alves and Marianna Rodrigues Marques Dourado are medical students in the third year of the course at Tirantes University, in Sergipe / Brazil. The students are members of the IFMSA and believe that female representation in medicine is a key element in breaking gender biases. As students, they struggle and study to become leaders in the medical field in the future.

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