Gender balance in medicine and health: Equality is out there – Fiona Tatton, Womanthology Editor

Flying-saucer
Fiona Tatton - Womanthology Founder and Editor

Fiona Tatton

Strange lumps and bumps

Welcome to issue 43 – Women in Medicine and Health. Let’s be very honest here. Very few people would opt to visit a medical professional by choice. There’s generally a problem to be solved, an illness. Medicine could often be described as a ‘distressed purchase’. It might be that you’ve got a lump or bump that shouldn’t be there – I’m thinking Embarrassing Bodies here as the ultimate in counter intuitivity (if that is even a real word) – someone’s got this massive embarrassing lump on their bum and they’re too ashamed to go to their own doctor, so they thought they’d get it out on national television… WHY???!!! What planet are these people from..?

No prodding please, we’re British

Few people enjoy being poked or prodded, and who can blame us? Especially when we’re British. Whereas other nations seem to be much less body conscious. (I’m remembering back to my last Mediterranean beach holiday here where the rest of Europe seemed to have far fewer issues about getting their bits out in the sunshine.)

It was fascinating for me as I was putting this edition together, and I was chatting to medical and health professionals who care for us and represent our interests. I’ve only ever been on the patients’ side of things, but what if you have made your career out of caring for others, or teaching students about medicine and health, or developing innovations to help make people better, or even creating regulatory frameworks to ensure care is delivered?

Extreme care and sensitivity required

Gillian Anderson

Gillian Anderson – a.k.a Dr. Dana Scully

It’s a complex and highly emotive area (as I have found even as I’ve been gathering material for this edition) and extreme care and sensitivity is required. That’s why we see so many medical dramas on television. I could be here all day reeling them off: Call the Midwife; Holby City; Casualty; ER; House; Grey’s Anatomy; Doc Martin…

The medical profession has us all gripped. I was trying to think of my own medical role models from the telly and it would have to either be Dr. Dana Scully from the X-Files (a strong character in her own right who kicks alien ass) or Dr. Joan Watson from Elementary, the U.S. re-imagination of Sherlock Holmes (also a strong character who coincidentally got the fringe benefit of living with Johnny Lee Miller – there a far worse ways to spend your professional life, I’m sure…)

Equality is out there…

As with any Womanthology edition, I wanted to bring together a group of women (and also where possible men) with a shared interest in gender equality, so here is my all-star line-up drawn from a diverse range of roles either in healthcare provision itself or alongside it.

In addition to technical skills and theoretical knowledge, health and medicine should always be a people centric area, guided by ethics and regulated to ensure best practice is followed, but sometimes even then there are grey areas. Difficult decisions around life and death situations and the treatments required for these are complex. I know I’d struggle with these.

Surely though women are incredibly well placed to tap into their empathetic side and rise to the occasion just as well as men? They’ve got the technical skills and competence, so what on earth is holding us back?

From speaking to several of the contributors in this edition, it would seem all too often that it’s women ourselves who are holding ourselves back, waiting patiently (no pun intended) to be noticed in a professional content, when in most cases it’s the ‘male’ way, the more direct way of doing things that is the status quo in the workplace. So is it the right thing for women to do to become less backward at coming forward, or should the system become a bit softer around the edges?

Challenging the status quo by putting yourself out there

In several areas of medicine it seems you need wear a metaphorical suit of armour to fend off all the rejection that is heading your way if you dare put yourself out there. But what about using new ways to challenge the status quo, even if you do have to put yourself out there?

Male midwifeThere’s no shortage of women in this edition who are offering their advice and support. There are women using their skills and ingenuity to take a more entrepreneurial role both at home in the NHS, and also by exporting British healthcare overseas. We’re also seeing men in to traditionally female dominated roles like midwifery and male surgeons champion women, including through social media – the ultimate in putting yourself out there.

In conclusion, the enthusiasm of all our contributors, as ever, it the very best part of putting Womanthology together and when I speak to them it reminds me that the power to make a balanced approach to gender the new normal lies within all of us. Gender equality is out there…

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