print Print    Share Share  

Empowering Women in Medicine

Strategies for Change

To counter the barriers to women's full participation in medicine and to change medicine's current biased view of women, we recommend the following strategies:

Strategy 1: Join a Women's Organization

  • Join one of the growing networks of women professionals. Membership can pyovide a support system, information, job opportunities, leadership training, and enable women physicians to meet key contacts in the Field. There are many different levels at which to get involved.
  • Join a national medical women's association. In addition to the above benefits, national organizations can provide resources not available elsewhere.
  • Join (or organize) a feminist organization in your medical school. Sponsor programs on sexual harassment, developing leadership potential, and advancing one's career. Call attention to other organizations and policies that unfairly disadvantage women.
  • Join (or organize) a feminist caucus in your professional field. While most medical societies have a women's caucus within their ranks, feminist voices are needed to bring women's issues to the forefront of these societies.
Strategy 2: Challenge the Myths

Stereotypes unchallenged are stereotypes accepted. Point out the discrepancies between stereotypes and women's reality. Arm yourself with the facts provided earlier in the "Challenging the Myths" section.

Strategy 3: Use the Media

The media is vital to effecting change. Never hesitate to contact the media and make them aware of actions, workshops, or other activities. Encourage reporters to cover feminist health issues in your area. Local radio and TV talk shows should also be encouraged to devote programs to women's concerns.

Strategy 4: Consider Legal Alternatives

Sometimes, despite the best efforts to correct a problem, one's only recourse is to take legal action. Such was the case when, in the early 1970s, feminist organizations sued every single medical school in the nation to stop discriminatory acceptance procedures. Legal action and the threat of legal action were largely responsible for the tremendous increase in women medical students.

Your nearest women's or medical women's organization can provide information as to your legal rights.

Strategy 5: Push for Gender Balance

Gender balance laws and regulations are a new concept designed to make decision-making bodies more representative of the population.

Push for gender balance regulations within professional societies, departments and faculty appointments. Gender balance can also be applied to research institutions, hospitals, and any other body whose decisions will affect both men and women.

Strategy 6: Recognize Sex Discrimination and Harassment

Even today women are reporting being purposely not informed of meetings of their own committees and being fondled by supervisors in the operating room. Yet many women are made to feel guilty about raising objections, being told to "lighten up" or that "it wasn't a big deal."

Sexual harassment is a big deal, but women must recognize it rather than internalize it, which only leads to low self-esteem and high stress levels.

Forewarned is forearmed. Read up on sexual harassment or contact a medical women's organization for information on how to not only recognize sex discrimination but how to counter it effectively.

Strategy 7: Develop Your Leadership Potential

Sharpen your leadership skills so that when an opportunity arises, you'll be ready to step in. Talk to women in positions you'd like to have. Ask them about the duties of their job.

Your visibility to women just starting out can make a critical difference in their future. Invite those at entry levels to meetings and dispuss their career plans with them. Encourage them to see themselves not just as workers but as potential leaders. Offer advice on how they can get their careers started and where to go for more information. Most importantly, go the extra mile to make their career path easier.

Picture yourself in a leadership position, then chart out what steps need to be taken to get there. Set definite goals for yourself and aim high. One of the biggest obstacles women sometimes have to overcome is not seeing themselves as potential leaders. But, as Dr. Lila Wallis has pointed out in the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association (JAMWA), "Every woman physician is a leader. She had to be to get where she is."

Strategy 8: Encourage Other Women

Strategy 9: Speak Out - Remember, You're in the Majority

Breaking the silence has a tremendous impact. It puts women's issues at the forefront of everyone's mind and identifies them as legitimate topics to be addressed.

Judith Lorber, writing in JAMWA, put it best: "Until the average competent male physician will sponsor the average competent female physician the way he will another min, it is up to average women to sponsor their sisters."

At every opportunity, point out gender imbal ances. Meetings, conventions, committee sessions and classrooms all provide opportunities to comment on the lack of women and demonstrate how the absence of women translates to absence of new perspectives and vital information. Re@nd everyone that women do make a difference and that when women are missing, everyone suffers.

When discussing research reports or journal articles, notice whether women were included. Even something that seems as "insignificant" as speaking out in class or raising an issue relating to women "without apology" demonstrates to those who bear you that women's issues are taken seriously by others.

Don't hesitate: Remember, feminists are th majority. In a 1986 Newsweek / Gallup poll, 71% the women surveyed believe the women's movement has improved their lives. Three years later a Time magazine poll found that 81% of women think the movement is still improving their lives.

With data like this it's clear that women's issues are supported and should be addressed by those in the field of medicine. Women in medicine must first speak out.