Leadership and Women in Medicine: the time is right for gender parity in healthcare
By: Evi Abada, MD, MS
The conversations surrounding the involvement of female leadership in medicine have been ongoing for quite some time. Yet, despite concerted efforts by various individuals, groups, and organizations to shine the light on this very important topic, parity between women and men in academic medicine is far from being achieved.
The all-important question that underscores this issue is, why? Why is it that women in medicine do not get the same recognition for the work they do, like their male colleagues? Why do female physicians hold fewer leadership roles than their male counterparts even with comparative years of training or experience?
Of course, multiple factors play a role in this inequity. And while this piece does not attempt to highlight every single reason for why today’s healthcare environment often seems so unbalanced, it serves to propose one actionable step that could play a role in closing this gender gap in healthcare. And that is, getting more female physicians involved in positions of leadership or responsibility earlier on, beginning in medical school.
There is strength in numbers. A conscious effort on the part of relevant stakeholders to get more women involved in leadership activities, even before the acquisition of an MD or DO degree may be a starting point to experiencing a paradigm shift in this area.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that unabashedly attempts to put the burden of family commitments on women. Therefore, as female medical students get to the end of their training, one of the paramount issues they may find themselves grappling with is allowing societal expectations of them to dictate what activities or even career specialties to pursue. Some may find themselves thinking about how to combine the arduous responsibility of practicing medicine with raising a family. At this stage in their careers, without the right support or networks, issues of leadership may not be the most important things on their minds, as they find themselves confronted with the misperceptions of society about their career choice.
Female physicians may unwittingly become accustomed to what appears to be the norm regarding this issue, making it appear like it is not a big deal. The result? The focus may be shifted to other areas that appear to have a greater societal appeal- maintaining a family with the added burden of childcare and home care responsibilities, rather than adding their voices to the ever-changing dynamics in medicine.
Thus, women walk the paths of their careers becoming used to the fact that most leadership positions in healthcare, including deanships and departmental chairs, are held by men -a phenomenon that was probably apparent during their medical education training.
For the medical field to function effectively in a gender-balanced environment, more women should be encouraged to participate in leadership activities, sooner, rather than later. Women should be trained to understand that they can effectively combine all other responsibilities (be it family or otherwise) with becoming effective leaders, at the same capacity or even better than their male counterparts.
More women need to be mentored and supported to delve into the realm of leadership because many female physicians possess innate leadership potential that they may not even be aware of. Such innate capabilities may never be put to good use, without the right environment and resources to help them thrive.
So, where do we go from here? Are we just adding our voices to what is already publicly known about the gender imbalance and bias in medicine? Certainly not! As an organization committed to amplifying the voices and leadership of women in medicine, you can join us in our next steps by doing one or all of the following:
Volunteer to become a mentor for upcoming female physicians in the profession.
Incorporate leadership and management curricula into medical education training.
Encourage female participation in issues of governance, leadership and policy advocacy.
Don’t just talk, ACT! Take action by committing to advocate for gender equity in medicine.
This is an original article of the 500 Women in Medicine, a satellite organization of 500 Women Scientists.