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14 May 2019

BY CLARE VINCENT, VICE PRESIDENT EXTERNAL, AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL STUDENTS’ ASSOCIATION

Gender equity is a key issue for all and it is one that is crucial to discussions of how medical students engage with medical leadership, and with potential specialties. The topic is broad and shifting; it encompasses so many different areas and aspects of health and can often affect not only those within the medical profession, but also our patients. When these discussions arise, we need to consider the current state of gender inequality within our health system, what has been done so far and what still needs to be addressed.

Over recent months, I have had the opportunity to attend several meetings which have seen gender equity as their core focus. This has included the AMA Gender Equity Summit in Sydney in March, which brought to the forefront current issues within the space – especially those still on the horizon within my medical career. While I must admit I could not contribute to conversations around parental leave and breastfeeding from personal experience, the Summit made me reflect on two things. One: why, with there being so many young, female leaders at a student level, does that not seem to translate into more senior levels of representation? And two: why is this Gender Equity Summit the first time I am hearing about major progress within the space around gender equity?

At present, I am currently sitting on a National Executive team with eight other accomplished women. In the process of team selection, we blinded our applications to remove name, university and gender and we chose to interview those who were best suited to the role. What I have found in my time with AMSA, are student leaders who have developed an impressive background of experience and who feel empowered to apply for roles like these. As a student group, we are often asked how doctors are encouraging similar representation at levels much further within medical training.

Listening to the speakers at the Gender Equity Summit, I reflected on this question and my own experience coming into a leadership role. Last year, I was nervous and felt under-skilled, but had an amazing team and support network that I was able to go to for encouragement. Feeling under-skilled, or out of depth, are phrases that are often heard as reasoning why someone might not put their hand up for a role.

There are several approaches to this issue, including mentoring programs and upskilling opportunities from very junior levels, both translatable to a junior doctor environment. A novel approach implemented by our Rural Health Committee is having positions of Members-Without-Portfolio on the Executive, targeted to those who may not feel as skilled or as experienced for more senior roles, but are still passionate to contribute and lead at a more accessible level. While this is only one issue to tackle within a multifactorial problem, it is always important to consider personal experiences and learn how you can improve within the system.

My second major take-away from the Summit was my surprise of what was being done by specialist Colleges to progress in this area and support their trainees. These conversations are not ones I have heard within my own hospital environment, or even from registrars who offer advice on training and Colleges. While I am pleased to see progression, albeit slowly, within the space of gender equity in the medical field, there is still more to be done.

Communication and language play key roles in cultural change, especially when relaying positive progress within this space. Tell your male medical students that general practice has a good work-life balance if they want a family, and tell your female medical students that the anaesthetics College will support a new mother at a conference to bring her baby and partner so she can continue to breastfeed. There are so many little things in the medical system that have changed, or still need to change; it often comes down to these nuances which may deter medical students away from your speciality.

These are experiences we have in our hospital years which formulate our decisions for our junior doctor years. Please remember that we are watching and listening to your training experience and we want to know how progress is going.

I am grateful that through AMSA, I have been able to learn about these opportunities and grow as a leader. I hope that I can pay these experiences forward to those around me to encourage an incoming generation of passionate leaders.

 


Published: 14 May 2019