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International Women’s Day – Women in Healthcare

Women’s struggle for gender equality has a long and radical history. In fact, the fight for women’s rights began in the early 1900s, which saw the celebration of the first National Women’s Day in the United States. It was intended to honour the women who bravely raised their voices against unfair employment practices and unsafe working conditions. 

However, this was just the beginning. The struggle for women’s equality carried on and spread to several countries across North America and Europe. Women continued to protest oppression and demand voting rights, rights to hold public office, and improved working conditions. Finally, in 1975, the United Nations General Assembly formally included International Women’s Day in its official calendar.

Today, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 every year to commemorate the innumerable contributions of women across the world and to shed a spotlight on their ongoing fight against gender discrimination. While women have come far in the struggle for equality, peace, and development, there is still quite a long way to go in certain fields like technology and medicine. 

Women have taken on healer roles since ancient times in the Egyptian dynasties, Greek civilizations, and medieval Europe. By the 1800s, women were being slowly accepted to medical schools to practice modern medicine. Emily Stowe was the first Canadian woman to receive a medical degree in 1867, but she was forced to study in the United States as Canadian medical schools didn’t admit women at the time. Her daughter Augusta eventually went on to become the first woman to graduate from a Canadian medical school in 1879.

Despite this, women remained underrepresented in leadership roles in Canadian healthcare. In 1990, although 79 percent of women were engaged in healthcare-related professions, only 27 percent were doctors and surgeons. This number has gradually increased over the years, with over half of the current graduating physicians being women.

Female Representation in Healthcare Leadership Roles 

Globally, women account for 70 percent of the world’s health workers. They may be engaged in various capacities like nurses, midwives, and health aides, playing key roles in providing value-based care and engaging in patient advocacy.

However, when it comes to leadership opportunities, women have been lagging. According to a 2017 World Economic Forum survey, only 35 percent of leadership positions in the healthcare industry are occupied by women. Various factors are responsible for this disparity, such as: 

  • deeply entrenched gender discriminatory attitudes in society
  • lack of access to education, training, and employment opportunities
  • violence against women and sexual harassment
  • lack of flexible working arrangements and female-friendly work policies
  • lack of pay parity (i.e., men are often paid more than women for doing the same job)

Despite this, women continue to forge through obstacles and help build more resilient and nurturing healthcare systems, with an emphasis on cooperation, respect, and inclusivity. Women contribute about $3 trillion annually to global healthcare, which is estimated to be around 5 percent of the world’s GDP. Yet, they remain under-acknowledged, undertrained, or underpaid.

Hence, greater female representation in healthcare leadership roles is crucial to advocating for women’s rights, amending existing regulations, recognizing the contribution of existing female health workers, providing more opportunities to women in training, and mentoring future female leaders.

In recent times, another factor that has impacted women in the workplace is the COVID-19 pandemic. The unforeseen economic disruption caused by the sudden closing of businesses and offices has had a rather detrimental impact on women’s participation in the workforce, with over 1.5 million Canadian women losing their jobs during the early months of the lockdown. According to research on population health, Canadian women’s mental well-being has also been more severely impacted than men’s.

Regardless of the challenges, female health workers have not hesitated to take on leadership roles during troubling times. Many chief medical officers at the frontline of the pandemic have been women, including Dr. Theresa Tam, who is Canada’s chief public health officer.

Advocating Workplace Diversity 

Although the number of women in leading positions in the medical field is increasing, the work is far from done, as it’s a long road to equality. Currently, only 12 percent of Canada’s deans of medicine are women. Thus, women remain grossly underrepresented, and it’s an ongoing effort to balance the scales. 

In addition to professional commitments, women are often burdened with personal responsibilities like household, family, and community tasks due to cultural expectations and norms. We strongly advocate for continuing education and equal opportunities for women in healthcare, clinical trials, and research studies. 

Stay Informed With MDBriefCase 

Supporting and promoting women in healthcare to leadership roles could go a long way toward bridging the gap in gender representation. We are committed to spreading awareness of this cause and updating you on the latest information. Learn more about our MDBriefCase community and related courses to stay current on guidelines.