On International Women's Day - more women in healthcare creates innovation

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 As today is International Women’s Day, I thought I’d write an article celebrating the influential women who made a difference in Medicine, Science and the way the world works today.

1) Metrodora (c. 200-400 CE)

Safe to say the oldest of our 5 influential women, Metrodora was a Greek female physician. She was also the author of “On the Diseases and Cures of Women”, which is the oldest medical text that is known to have been written by a woman. She worked in many areas of medicine, which included all aspects of gynecology which were written in On the Diseases and Cures of Women.

2) Elizabeth Blackwell (1821 – 1910)

Elizabeth Blackwell was also a physician. She was born in Bristol, England and was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Not only that, but she was the first woman on the Medical Register of the General Medical Council. Elizabeth Blackwell was a pioneer for educating women in medicine. She was also a nurse in the American Civil War.

3) Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Not only was Elizabeth Garett Anderson a physician, she was also a suffragette. She was the first woman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain, and also co-founded the first hospital staffed by women. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson then went on to become the first dean of a British medical school and then to be the first female mayor as the Mayor of Aldeburgh! It was when she was mayor, she gave speeches for suffrage to promote the cause.

4) Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)

Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist conducted pioneering research in radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first and only women to win a Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to have won a Nobel Prize in two different sciences (Physics and Chemistry). Her research resulted in the development of the theory of radioactivity and the discovery of two elements (polonium and radium). She also founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw, which still are major centres of medical research in 2018. During World War I she developed mobile radiography units which provided X-ray services to the field hospitals.

5) Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958)

An English chemist who made major contributions to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal and graphite. She earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1945, going on to become a research associate at King’s College London in 1951 working on X-ray diffraction studies. This would then eventually facilitate the double helix theory of DNA. Unfortunately, her contributions to the discovery of the structure of DNA was not recognised until after her death in 1958.

Without these women and their contributions, the way we understand medicine and have been able to advance could have been very different. From pioneering in the education of women, the empowerment of women, radioactivity and DNA, each and every one of these women made a significant difference to the world of science and medicine, and it is important that we celebrate that on International Women’s Day. It is still important to remember, however, that women are still underrepresented in certain areas of medicine. There is still an overall pay gap between men and women in medicine, and we should always be striving for equality.

In the UK today, 45% of doctors in the UK are female, 32% of consultants are female and GPs have a higher proportion of women compared to hospitals. 46% of very senior manager roles in the NHS are held by women. (Sources : http://bit.ly/2Ha9cM4, http://bit.ly/2nNV5Vy)

HOWEVER Female doctors are significantly under-represented in some areas, particularly surgery. They are also under-represented in senior clinical academic positions, such as Deans of Medical Schools. Female doctors are also majorly underrepresented in key medical political roles. There is also still an overall pay gap between men and women in medicine.

In the US, Women are becoming an increasingly bigger segment of the medical profession. In 2015 it was found that nearly a third of all practicing physicians are women. In some sectors, for example pediatricians, they are already the majority, accounting for more than 60%. (Source: http://on.wsj.com/2Ha9kLy)

Not only are they practicing physicians, but the number of women turning to careers in medicine are increasing with 46% of all physicians in training and almost half of all medical students are women according to Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) analysis.

HOWEVER women make up just over a third of full-time academic medicine faculty and remain less likely to be full medical school professors.

Women in medicine play an extremely important role and make a huge impact. Yes, there is still some way to go to close the gap on equality, but for today let’s just celebrate what has been achieved so far which is quite remarkable!

Written by Jessica Grubb

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