Women in leadership: closing the gender gap in medicine

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Monika Hejnowicz, a fifth-year medical student in Poland, at Wroclaw Medical University. 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.

As Joanne B. Ciulla, an American philosopher said “Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship between people based on trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, and a shared vision of the good.”
In that relationship women find themselves fighting for equality form ancient times. Nevertheless, for most of the history women’s presence in the field of medicine was often of the nature of care, less therapeutic. Only at the beginning of the 20th century women permanently established their position in medicine.

Looking at the modern statistic it is clear that gender gap is very prevalent in hospitals. According to data presented by Redi-Data, Inc. in a study from September 2020, women make up 34% of physicians in the U.S. but account for only 18% of hospital CEOs and 16% of all deans and department chairs in the U.S. The inequality is visible not only in the positions that women are holding but also their academic performances.

Women are also in the minority when it comes to senior authorship (10%) and Editors-In-Chief (7%) at prestigious medical journals, as stated by a study from 2006 The “gender gap” in authorship of academic medical literature – a 35-year perspective by Reshma Jagsi.

Those statistics show the realness of the gender gap. Reasons for it are broad, starting from not achieving promotions or advancement to leadership positions as often as their male peers, difficulties with finding mentors and sponsors, ending on the fact that this gap likely contributes to career disparities resulting in women being offered lower pay. Thankfully the change is visible. According to the research by Reshma Jagsi, “Over the past four decades, the proportion of women among both first and senior physician-authors of original research in the United States has significantly increased.”. Studies like these are giving hope that in the future we will be able to completely close the gender gap.

Institutions like The Association of American Medical Colleges are working against inequality.  Programs of mentoring and leadership development aimed at women in early and mid-career or the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine, helps to create networks and build senior leadership skills.

Importance of those programs is laid mostly by giving women advices on topics like negotiation, resources, administration which they can’t get elsewhere.

We know now more than ever that difficulties which medicine faces require elasticity, diverse workforce and leadership. Implementing structural changes and opening previously closed spaces to both genders can benefit health system in years to come.


What’s Holding Women in Medicine Back from Leadership

by Christina Mangurian, Eleni Linos, Urmimala Sarkar, Carolyn Rodriguez, Reshma Jagsi June 19, 2018

N Engl J Med. 2006 Jul 20;355(3): 281-7.doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa053910.The “gender gap” in authorship of academic medical literature – a 35-year perspective by Reshma Jagsi, Elizabeth A Guancial, Cynthia Cooper Worobey, Lori E Henault, Yuchiao Chang, Rebecca Starr, Nancy J Tarbell, Elaine M Hylek

About the author

Monika Hejnowicz is a fifth-year medical student in Poland, at Wroclaw Medical University.

She is a member of IFMSA POLAND, where she was working in the National SCOME Team in 2021.

She has a passion for Laryngology and Gynecology, and is a fierce supporter of Sustainable Development along with Equal rights.

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