Bridging gender gap in medicine

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Tooba Khursheed, who hails from India, an aspiring student pursuing medicine in Kyrgyzstan. 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 we advance through the second decade of the twenty first century, trying to recover from the traumatic blows of COVID-19, the veil of aged indifference is being dusted off several loopholes hollowing the global community. One such pitfall that had survived the tides of time is gender bias. The patriarchal legacy plagues almost all the sectors. Medicine is no different.

Sadly, in several hospitals around the world, a huge gender gap exists in the salaries and the workforce of several clinical specialties, highlighting male-dominance. Statistics reveal that the percentage of women holding institutional and national leadership positions is heartbreakingly low. Females are awarded with promotions at a comparatively slower pace than their male colleagues. They attend national and international medical conferences less frequently. Also, women constitute the minority of senior authorship and editor-in-chiefs of prestigious journals as it is difficult for them to find sponsors and mentors. This is disappointing, isn’t it? How can we forget the celebrated medical contributions of women  like Virginia Apgar, Marie Curie, Helen Brooke Taussig, Judith Graham Pool, Rosalind Franklin to name a few!

The prime culprit of this discrimination is the stereotyped role of females as primary caregivers. Even today, in many parts of the world, it is the woman who is held solely accountable for taking care of ill family members, bringing up children, tending to domestic chores. This mindset doesn’t allow them to work full-time.  In addition, domestic violence and sexual harassment at the hands of their colleagues and patients disrupt the psyche of female healthcare workers, thus affecting their performance. So many women don’t do night shifts, or respond to emergencies at night in order to safeguard their femininity.

In the light of the wise words of Michelle Obama, “The difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued”, I’d like to emphasize the fact that gender balance in clinical workforce would definitely enhance patient outcomes and the overall quality of healthcare. This much-needed equity can be achieved by suppressing prejudiced attitudes, redistributing roles in the domestic sphere, introducing family-friendly policies that support child-bearing as well as child-rearing (e.g. paid maternity leaves, lactation rooms etc.), providing mentorship and sponsorship to women, monitoring the gender pay gap and implementing laws to mitigate sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Nowadays, females outnumber males in medical schools and account for approximately 70% of global healthcare workforce. Women hold high positions at several esteemed institutions like Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Hollings Cancer Center, among others. In fact, at Boston University Medical Center and School of Medicine, the CEO and academic dean, both women, are committed to helping other women to ascend to senior roles. Also, the launch of Time’s Up Healthcare and the publication of The Lancet’s themed issue on advancing women in science, medicine, and global health are some noteworthy initiatives to promote gender equality in these fields. Still, we have a long way to go.

About the author

Tooba Khursheed, who hails from India, is an aspiring student pursuing medicine in Kyrgyzstan. She is a passionate bibliophile and started writing at the tender age of eight. Apart from literature, she loves to learn new arts, explore her horizons and cherish the little bounties of life. With a firm belief in the power of perseverance, she wants to make this world a better place to live in. One can reach out to her via her email address:

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