Great advances have taken place in the medical field in the last century and a half. While those advancements include bringing women into the medical professional fold, there is still plenty of work to do to achieve gender equality between male and female doctors. Every year on February 3rd, National Women Physicians Day brings these issues to the fore. In this article, we’ll shine a spotlight on National Women Physician Day and what it means to women everywhere.
What Is National Women Physicians Day?
National Women Physicians Day is celebrated every year on the anniversary of the birth of Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, who was the very first female physician in the United States. The day is a celebration of all female physicians across the nation and the progress they have made. At the same time, it highlights the gender inequities which still exist.
Elizabeth Blackwell was actually a British woman. She became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849. Thereafter, she became the first woman registered on the Medical Register of the General Medical Council. As well as promoting medical education among women, both in the United States and the United Kingdom, Elizabeth was a moral reformer with a keen social conscience.
In addition to National Women Physicians Day, Elizabeth’s contributions to medicine are recognized with the annual Elizabeth Blackwell medal, which is awarded to women who have made significant contributions to the education of women in medicine.
There have been many other female pioneers in the field of medicine. For example, in 1864, Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first black woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.
Another female medical pioneer was biologist and cytogeneticist Nettie Stevens (1861–1912), who discovered that X and Y chromosomes were responsible for sex determination.
You can learn more about female medical pioneers at the Women in Medicine Hall of Fame.
While it is true that advancements have been made in terms of gender equity in the medical profession, it must also be acknowledged that there is a long way to go to achieve parity. According to a position paper published by the American College of Physicians in 2018, 34 percent of active physicians were women, with 46 percent of physicians-in-training being women.
The bright light on the horizon is that 50 percent of medical students are women. This has been the case for a number of years. When it comes to leadership in medicine, however, the figures are less promising. Just 38 percent of medical school faculty staff are women, with only 21 percent of full professors of medicine being women. The figures are even worse when it comes to department chairs, with only 15 percent being women. When it comes to deans of medical schools across the United States, just 16 percent are women.
It should come as no surprise that there is also gender inequity when it comes to compensation among medical professionals. As of 2018, women were paid 20 percent less than their male counterparts in primary care, with men receiving $229,000, compared with $197,000 for women. When it comes to subspecialty medicine, the disparity is even greater, with women being paid a whopping 37 percent less than men.
Aside from gender equity issues with regard to compensation and positions, women in the medical profession are also subject to sexually inappropriate conduct and discrimination. 51.3 percent of female physicians have reported discrimination, compared with 31.2 percent of male physicians.
When it comes to reports of sexual harrasment, the difference between the genders is staggering. 30.4 percent of female medical professionals have filed sexual harassment charges, compared with just 4.2 percent for men. Women are also three times more likely to experience punitive or disrespectful actions than men. Women, too, are more likely to be described as judgmental, rude, or unfriendly by patients in online reviews.
There is also an issue when it comes to parental leave for medical professionals. Only 28.9 percent of medical professional contracts make allowance for maternity leave. As a result, the average amount of money lost by a medical professional during pregnancy is $10,000.
Women’s Equality Day
Another national day that champions gender equality issues is Women’s Equality Day. This is celebrated annually on August 26th. Both of these days provide an opportunity to learn about the benefits of having women in positions of leadership, both in the medical community and elsewhere. There is interesting research on emotional intelligence in leadership and how it differs between the sexes.
How to Support Women Physicians Day
Becoming aware of the disparities between the genders in the medical profession is a good start to supporting female physicians. But there is more we can all do. Here are three actions you can take . . .
- Recognize, acknowledge, and show appreciation for the female physicians in your local community. Do this every day, but especially on February 3rd.
- Show your support for female doctors by posting on social media. Share whatever you like to highlight the profession. This might include stories of female pioneers in medicine or personal anecdotes about female physicians who have touched your life. Use the following hashtags to reach as many people as possible: #NationalWomenPhysiciansDay or #WomenPhysiciansDay.
- Encourage the young women in your life to pursue education, the sciences, and, possibly, medicine as a career path.
Mark February 3rd on your calendar and give your support to National Women Physicians Day by showing appreciation for female doctors both in person and online. In addition, I encourage you to hold out science and medicine as a potential career path for the young women in your life.
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