Healthcare: The future is female

Gender nothwithstanding, a doctor stands out from the rest because their responsibility involves saving lives.

In India, women constitute about 51 percent of students joining colleges in 2016-17. They cornered 23,522 seats, as opposed to the 22,934 bagged by the men. The NEET 2018 topper was a female.

Gender nothwithstanding, a doctor stands out from the rest because their responsibility involves saving lives. In a country where most professions are still dominated by men, the medical field was no exception to the rule. Until a few names forced the world to think otherwise. The efforts of resilient female doctors, undaunted by patriarchy and male bias, have helped the Indian medical industry to grow into the gender-neutral space it is today. Although it is widely believed that women are the weaker sex, I am unsure, looking at India today, if this has ever been true.

Inherent chauvinism
History is rife with success stories of strong women, from Cleopatra in 69 BC to Marie Curie, the first woman Nobel Laureate, who discovered radioactivity. The field itself is hampered by chauvinism, however, in many subtle ways. Even medical terminology is masculine, whether is a ‘Bachelor of Surgery,’, a “master’ of Surgery, a ‘fellow’ in any subject or a ‘Magister’ of Chirugiae.

The reality
Girls are higher achievers than boys, educationally and there has been a gradual shift towards more women joining the medical field and even outnumbering the men. Women’s role in medicine and healing is evident through history, from the ancient world to the present day, in many different forms. The future is female! Women are now transforming health services and in a decade, most doctors will be women. Despite the variety of challenges that women face in medical professions, female physicians inspire and save lives every day.

Glorifying machismo
The role of a woman doctor isn’t too much a shift in society, which has always viewed women as being caregivers. Female doctors are seen as less egotistical and more humane, sensitive and altruistic than male physicians. They value the psychosocial aspects of medical care more than the business aspect. I believe women can be catalysts for creating healthier people, communities and a healthier world.

The pioneers
Dr Helen Taussig pioneered a cardiac operation that led tot he development of open-heart surgery for blue babies. Dr Irene Ferrer helped develop the cardiac catheter. Marily Gaston’s research on sickle-cell disease led to nationwide screenings. Clara Burton founded Red Cross, Rosalyn Sussman is a Nobel Prize winner in Medical physiology, Dr Virginia Apgar evaluated the new born - the examples are many. And the number grows everyday.

Falling through the gaps
Despite all this, they continue to recive less pay for equivalent hours than men. Women are also not adequately represented in the higher echelons of power within academic medicine. Women’s carriers are adversely affected by natural occurrences like pregnancy, childcare, family responsibilities and gender-role conflicts.

It’s complicated
Gender inequities within the field are nuanced and complex. Overt or unconscious bias can influence hiring and promotion decisions. Female doctors prefer jobs that involve patient-interaction, and those that come with more predictable hours that are conducive to family life. They elect to be GPs, pediatricians, psychiatrists or public health doctors over surgery, cardiology or emergency services.

There is no shortage of smart, educated, talented women in global health. They bring a different perspective to the table and this perspective is critical to improve health outcomes around the world.

Dr N. Prabhudev is a Former Director, Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology

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