RACP details plans to improve gender equity in medicine

By Siobhan Calafiore

15 May 2023

The RACP established its Gender Equity in Medicine Committee late last year and the group’s first key task is to implement recommendations from a report detailing the experiences and systemic barriers to gender equity faced by college members. 

These recommendations include embedding gender equity in college activities and culture as well as embedding gender diversity in all levels of college leadership.  

The college also wants to drive member engagement on the issue. 

An action plan, which is anticipated to be finalised for approval by mid-2023, will provide a roadmap for the work that will be required over the next 2-3 years.

Here, RACP president Dr Jacqueline Small explains what that could look like. 

the limbic: How big of an issue is gender equity in medicine? And what are some of the experiences of inequity you’ve heard from your own members?

Dr Jacqueline Small: Experiences we know of include gender discrimination in the workplace driven by stereotypes, leadership imbalance.

We know that women may be disadvantaged in attaining research grants, leadership roles and career goals.

We know there is an underrepresentation of women on decision-making bodies, and therefore a lack of role modelling experiences and examples.

The RACP’s Gender Equity in Medicine Working Group (GEMWG) report [link here] recommendations were developed based on our membership experience, one of the surveys illustrated that nearly half of the respondents believed their gender had a negative effect on their overall career trajectory.

the limbic: What about on a personal note? Can you talk about any instances of gender inequity you’ve experienced or witnessed?

Dr Small: As president of the RACP, I am only the fourth woman president in 85 years. As I looked back, I saw that most of my predecessors were eminent men, and admittedly I felt quite daunted as I was considering nominating for election.

I do think the time has arrived in which more women are deciding to step into these senior roles, with widespread encouragement from our medical community.

the limbic: How would you say the RACP fares in terms of gender representation at a leadership level?

Dr Small: At present, the RACP president and president-elect are female, and the board comprises even representation of male and female. Many other leaders are also women, but we are still looking to address wider diversity and inclusion as well.

The college is also working on a process to provide more transparency and accountability in this space, and this will be further outlined in the development of the gender equity action plan.

the limbic: Do some specialties have a better gender balance than others, and if so, are there reasons why this is the case?

Dr Small: We know that community child health comprises of 87.5% female fellows and 88.8% female trainees. General paediatrics comprises of 63.5% female fellows and 76.3% female trainees.

Whereas less than 5% (<20) of interventional cardiologists across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand are female.

As to why general paediatrics and endocrinology have a greater representation of women, we are not sure.

However, we know when there are strong female role models in a specialty this encourages female doctors in training to envision themselves also having a rewarding career in that field.

the limbic: Can you talk about what sort of action the RACP is likely to take?

Dr Small: The GEMWG report recognises that review of some policies may be warranted to reflect our intention to reflect gender equity.

An early outcome of the GEMWG report recommendations was the revision of the college’s flexible training policy and progression through training policy.

This was driven in part by the enthusiastic engagement of early career physicians and paediatricians as well as trainees.

The college’s selection into training policy is currently under review and we are considering how gender equity be promoted through that review.

the limbic: How can you have an impact on gender equity in medicine more broadly?

Dr Small: We all have a responsibility in medicine, and health more broadly, to be inclusive, diverse and accountable to our communities.

This may involve shifting mindsets and perspectives and accepting that diversity, including intersectionality, strengthens our profession. It will require us to deliberately challenge how we have conducted research, development of clinical guidelines and practised medicine to take account of potential biases.

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