Feature | Gender Equality in Medicine: A Male Perspective

I (JDF) am a white male of European descent and, by that virtue alone, the clear majority in medicine. So why am I writing about women in cardiology? For three simple reasons: my wife, who is a surgeon, and my two daughters. I believe gender equity is an issue that should be a common cause between genders, and not solely one "for women, by women." This is as true for medicine and cardiology as it is for society as a whole.

My wife is an orthopedic surgeon. In her specialty, women represent only 4 percent of the workforce and, believe it or not, that is considerable progress. She continually reminds me of the lengths women have gained in medicine over the last century, but many conversations with her also remind me of how much inequity still remains. In comparison, cardiology is rather luxuriously diverse with a work force of double digits represented by women (11 percent). Albeit slowly, there is a growing sense that the tide is changing. Women now represent nearly 50 percent of medical students nationwide (and were even a majority in my graduating class of 2008). Further, more women than ever before are in leadership roles and in high ranking positions in academic medicine. But when you look closer, the numbers still remain wildly unbalanced. So how do we bridge the gap in a more noticeable way moving forward and how do I, as a man, participate?

In order to produce and maintain gender balance in medicine, current leaders and senior members can contribute by being mentors and role models. If my daughters were to pursue medicine, they would know no bounds given that they have seen their mother and grandmother succeed at every step of their careers against numerical odds. In addition, they will know that they have my full support regardless of which field they choose, be it male or female-dominated.

Male role models and mentors need to show support based on merit and ability regardless of gender. There needs to be less influence of the Pygmalion effect, where preconceived expectations influence outcomes. Qualified women should be assumed to be equally fit to lead and succeed as their male counterparts and offered opportunities in the same way. There must be a concerted effort to remove gender as a qualification for positions for promotion or leadership. Outward support of women by female and male leadership can set a precedent that speaks volumes and has long-lasting effects.

In the end, it is more than my wife and daughters that compel me to speak out for women in medicine. I presume that any husband would support his wife, and that any father would wish for his children to be successful, regardless of career. Humans have created many different flourishing cultures, and come in myriad "flavors" among (at least) two genders. Both the history and current practice of medicine is filled with people like me, white men descended from Europeans. It's more than time that healthcare truly reflects the breadth of humanity, with at least the demographics of providers that serve coming closer to the population that is being served.

This post was authored by Jarrod D. Frizzell MD, MS, second-year cardiology fellow, PGY-7, in the Division of Cardiology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and Bina Ahmed, MD, FACC, FSCAI, assistant professor of Interventional Cardiology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in Albuquerque.