Gender Disparity in Medicine: Why and How Do We Close the Gap?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. RP Sai is an Asian American, studying medicine at the Medical University of Lublin, Poland. She is 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 topic of “Women in Medicine” is a hotly debated topic, not only in terms of the numbers of women in medicine but also with reference to disparities in salary, promotion, publications, presentations and leadership positions. Everyone knows that this disparity must be abolished, and that women need to be acknowledged for their commitment and passion to medicine.

Though a great deal of discussion and research, and proposals have been made, disappointingly enough and predictably enough, the gap is yet to be closed. The concept of change is not new. It is simple. Women who hold the same position as men, women who are productive as their male counterparts should, as logic tells us, receive the same compensation and recognition as men. This has not happened even today. Many theories, perhaps better described as misconceptions, have been floated around to explain this disparity.

This includes A). Men tend to go into highly specialized field while women do not. This theory has been debunked as women in the same specialty as their male counterparts on an average earn less. B). Men tend to take longer hour shifts including night calls. The least desired shift are often taken by women as they are less combative when it comes to the schedule. C). Men have more clinical experience.

This theory did not hold water when data was adjusted for age, experience, specialty and rank. Women full professors make less money than male associate professors D). Men take on more administrative roles. More women tend to take on more leadership, administrative, and research roles than men do. We must move beyond the misconceptions and trying to explain away the disparity. There are solutions,  which though complex, are achievable.

The changes needed should be based on valid and current data. Data should be adjusted for age, gender, status and experience. The next step would be to share the data widely so that women are well informed when it comes to negotiations with salary, raises, promotions, tenure, publications, etc. In general women depend on same sex mentorship and peer support. This needs to change as men are more likely to receive specific information about promotions or salaries. Peer groups and support groups for women should therefore include men at similar levels.

Male sponsorships and coaching generally help in closing the gender gaps. Universities and hospitals should revamp their policies and procedures to ensure increased participation, promotion and engagement of women in job search committees, promotion and tenure, and research committees. Another measure includes the transparency of salary data by encouraging periodic audits of the organization.

Having more women leaders in medicine would help alleviate this problem greatly as they would be in a position of power to ensure that the gender gap is indeed not just closing but closed. Women in medicine and women in leadership positions is no longer just a dream. It is fast becoming a reality and needs but a few tweaks for success.



About the author

RP Sai is an Asian American, studying medicine at the Medical University of Lublin, Poland. She is a neophyte, in her first year and is passionate about health advocacy. As a high schooler she has worked extensively to bridge the gaps in learning for underserved communities in America, by successfully establishing peer tutoring processes. As a future physician she hopes to address the disparity in healthcare access in American communities. The topic of this essay is of interest to her as women in leadership positions are often passionate about health advocacy, as the disparity generally affects women, women of color.

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