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Gender inequity in medicine and medical leadership

Allison Hempenstall, Jillian Tomlinson and Marie M Bismark
Med J Aust 2019; 211 (10): 475-475.e1. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.50388
Published online: 18 November 2019

To the Editor: Last month, the Medical Journal of Australia called for manuscript submissions on the topic of “Women in medicine and medical leadership in Australia — is there gender equity?” We answer with a resounding no. Indeed, we believe the question itself perpetuates gender disparity by suggesting that the answer is up for debate.

There is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that gender equity in medicine and medical leadership in Australia has not been achieved. Women have had gender parity in Australian medical schools for decades; however, they represent only 28% of medical deans and 12.5% of hospital chief executive officers.1 In February 2019, The Lancet dedicated an entire issue on advancing women in science, medicine and global health.2 The MJA has also reported on capacity, capability and credibility barriers for women in health leadership.3 These disparities are even greater for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour and women with disabilities.

There is an urgent need to shift our focus from asking whether gender inequity exists to implementing and evaluating sustainable strategies to change the status quo. This year, the Australian Medical Association of Victoria changed its constitution to include a 40% gender quota for its board.4 The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has established a business plan with tangible indicators to promote leadership and flexible training for its female surgeons.5 Both the Women in Tropical Health Catalyse Program6 in Australia and Wāhine Connect (www.wahineconnect.nz) in New Zealand offer mentoring for women in medicine and medical leadership.

We need to bolster current strategies aimed at improving the number of women in medical leadership. Moreover, we need to keep our workplaces, colleges, committees, professional associations and academic journals accountable for the role they play in the persistent gender inequities in medicine and medical leadership in Australia.

We invite the MJA to follow The Lancet's example and dedicate an entire issue to strategies that advance women in medicine and medical leadership. We implore it not to ask “is there gender equity?” when the answer to this question is patently clear. The answer is no.

  • Allison Hempenstall1
  • Jillian Tomlinson2
  • Marie M Bismark3

  • 1 Thursday Island Hospital, Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, Thursday Island
  • 2 Melbourne Hand Surgery, Melbourne
  • 3 Centre for Health Policy, University of Melbourne, Melbourne

Collaborating authors

Sonia Fullerton, Rebekah Hoffman, Monica Cooper, Amanda Cohn, Clare Skinner, Helen Schultz, Kara Allen, Prunella Blinman, Deborah Verran, Jacqueline Ho, Simon Fleming, Anita MY Goh, Lisa Rampersad, Tamara Hall, Diane Ghanem, Charlotte Durand, Mya Cubitt, Ruth Mitchell, Jordan Walter, Elizabeth Sigston, Nisha Khot, Rhea Liang, Catherine Marraffa, Carly Silvester, Jane Munro, Marisa Magiros, Brooke Sachs, Rebecca Szabo, Jacinta Johnson, Ekta Paw, Christine Lai, Xiu Lee and Ashleigh Witt.

Editor‐in‐Chief's note

The MJA welcomes views on this important topic and wishes to encourage evidence‐based submissions. Suitable submissions will be published in ongoing issues of the Journal.


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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access_time 10:46, 19 November 2019
Colin Scott Masters

Lets not forget the other 28 genders (minimum), we need to have an inclusive discussion around this issue (see https://www.ausdoc.com.au/news/australian-study-identifies-30-gender-identities). Then there's race, religion, disability, age etc that need addressing in the equity discussion that needs to be had.

Competing Interests: No relevant disclosures.

Dr Colin Scott Masters
Ochre, Caloundra

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