Document Type: Letter to Editor

Author

Gastroenterology and Hepatology, School of Medicine, Imperial College London, London, England

Abstract

The importance of role models in medicaleducation cannot be understated. Theyallow for professional development, aid in careermotivation and inspire and educate throughexample. Unfortunately, I cannot admit knowingmore than three female role models throughoutmy time at medical school, and now as a finalyear student, I am more disappointed than everfor this deficit.My admiration and respect for doctorsremains sky high, but from the age of 15, Iremember being put off and discouraged froma career in medicine. My first work experienceplacement was met with disgruntled medicalstudents and doctors warning me to ‘steer clear’of this career choice. Notably, female doctorswould state their reservations about whether theycould adequately bring up a stable family togetherwith the demands of this profession. This wasan extremely frustrating resolution for me to seeas a young, inspired medic- who passionatelyfelt I would work hard to do both. I sought tofind out more about the challenges for womenin medicine.There lies no dispute that having a stablefamily life and successful career is no easy featfor women. Yet, the mere choice between a familyand/or career is far more intricate than it mayseem; it is really a question exploring personallife priorities, resolute character traits and, mostimportantly, equal gender opportunities and thenecessity for greater support for women withfamilies (1).Gender equity and empowerment areinextricably linked to a woman’s entitlementand contribution to the workplace. Evidently, theendless unpaid hours of bringing up a family needgreater recognition- arguably a full time job initself; some people still don’t deem the demandingwork of a mother as a career- illustrated byCatherine Deveny’s Guardian article (2).Women are often invited to defend their lifechoices, or fulfil gender expectations. Maybe,as women we need to alter our own insight intowhat it means to be a successful career womanand mother. What defines doing ‘well’ whendescribing family life, a subjective word for sucha prevalent aspiration.The deplorable deluge of negative headlinesafter the report from the Royal College ofPhysicians (2009) stating women will predominatethe workforce in 2017 inflamed public perceptionwith assertions including, “Women docs weakenmedicine” (3). This was a shocking flavour ofnegativism for women in medicine- and addedto both my curiosity and anger at the situation.The apparent vulnerability of women isparticularly evident amongst certain geographicalpopulations; for example, in Iran, there arepalpable traditional differences between genders,rendering unequal social rights, salaries andemployment opportunities (4), with furthersignificance on health status. Article 158,of the Third Development plan, instigated aresolute initiative for increasing awarenessand incorporation of women in society, whichincluded the promotion of job opportunitiesfor women (5). Furthermore, accessibility ofadvanced surgical training is highly limited,with Dr Sakineh Pari, born in 1902, being thefirst Iranian female surgeon (6). Despite theevolution of greater gender equality in Iranianmedical employment, it is clear that we needfurther progress towards true equality.I want to pose a note of reflection: why dothese negative perceptions still exist even in2017? We need to act now to ensure the womenof the future have confidence that they can bothcultivate a great family and career; it is possible,with the appropriate communication, support andflexibility that are essential to both motherhoodand top career posts, especially within countrieswhere gender inequalities are rife.