The female struggle for leadership: gender issues in medicine 

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Rebeca Feitosa Dória Alves and Renata Carvalho Almeida are currently third year medical students at Tiradentes University, in Aracaju / 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.

For many years, the medical profession was mostly male. This fact is a historical reflection of a series of events that were outlined by a sexist and stigmatized society. In the 19th century, it was believed that studying was a dangerous activity for women’s health, however, with the advent of the Feminist Movement in Germany, in 1899 there were already women entering medical schools.

During the First World War, the empowerment of women in medicine became more effective, but the professional recognition, salary and acceptability of women were still much lower than those of men. These injustices have boosted women’s struggles for access to work, equal pay and freedom of professional activity that have left important results in society in social advances.

Today, although many of the gender disparities have been reduced from the past, claims about men and women in medicine persist, because equality has not been achieved. Medicine is changing and increasing the female share within it and this is very positive. Despite this change, the internal hierarchy of hospitals and healthcare environments still largely reflects gender disparities within society.

The focus of the current challenge is no longer the right to study and enter the medical field, but is the achievement of highlights in this space. In this context, it is possible to distinguish leadership roles, generally directed and attributed to men, because, within Western culture, there was a great and reinforced association of women with affectivity, to the detriment of power and material success. In the logic of this ideology of values, submission was reserved for women.

It is important to realize that, in order to break gender prejudices within Medicine, it is important to change the view of women as a social role. Men and women have an equal ability to learn and develop skills and, therefore, within the profession they should be open to the same opportunities.

The leadership of women in medicine will then be guided by the general struggle for gender equality and internal representation. The inspiration in examples of women who achieved support as doctors is very valid, whether they are historical people like Elizabeth Blackwell – the first woman to graduate in Medicine – or medical professors who encourage their students to grow, set goals and stand out.

Women’s ambition should not be underestimated or ridiculed, as gender does not define competencies. The rise of women as doctors will occur due to the breaking down of barriers within academic and professional circles, in which each woman must show her ability to work in an exemplary manner and never accept to be considered fragile or inferior. 

About the author

Rebeca Feitosa Dória Alves and Renata Carvalho Almeida are currently third year medical students at Tiradentes University, in Aracaju / Sergipe, Brazil. They are members of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations of Brazil (IFMSA-BRASIL) and believe that women are able to rise as doctors with their intelligence, ability and resilience despite the great prejudice that still exists. They agree that education and representativeness are the path to women’s leadership in medicine.

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