‘Notable milestone,’ says president of Association of American Medical Colleges
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
In 2017, more women entered medical school than men for the first time, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).
Last year, women represented 50.7 of new medical school enrollees, compared with 49.8 percent the year before.
“We are very encouraged by the growing number of women enrolling in U.S. medical schools,” physician Darrell G. Kirch, AAMC president and CEO, said in a press release. “This year’s matriculating class demonstrates that medicine is an increasingly attractive career for women and that medical schools are creating an inclusive environment. While we have much more work to do to attain broader diversity among our students, faculty, and leadership, this is a notable milestone.”
This somewhat holds true locally at University at Buffalo. While the number of first-year women medical students remains 50 percent, it has risen from 46.9 percent in 2014, indicating some progress.
“This is something we’re happy to see,” said David Milling, a physician serving as senior associate dean for student and academic affairs at UB, referring to the growth in the number of women entering medical school. “It helps to have a diverse population based upon gender and any other way so we can take care of the populations in our community. We hope it continues.”
Milling attributes the effect to changes in the field of medicine that make practicing it more of a profession than a lifestyle.
“Women are more comfortable in terms of entering the profession, feeling they are also able to do everything else that comes along with life in being primarily responsible for families and having children,” Milling said. “That’s less and less of a concern as medicine has evolved.”
Milling added that in recent years, more women picture themselves as physicians. Encouraging girls to become involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) means, eventually, more women doctors, he said.
“It is absolutely phenomenal,” said Marcia C. Brogan, president of the Buffalo Niagara Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and an insurance agent with Niagara National Insurance in Buffalo. “Women are obviously understanding their potential in the science and medical fields and are able to empower themselves to reach levels that were challenging themselves in the past.”
Women equally represented in medical school shows the benefits in promoting positive female role models.
She believes that for a long time, medicine has been a hierarchy. Women taking a bigger role shows the work in promoting gender equality in middle schools, high schools and colleges.
Brogan also believes that women bring a lot to the emergency room, exam room and operating table.
“Women have a different way of looking at things and are more collaborative with men and women,” she said. “They’re easier to work with anyone.
“Women bring a new perspective. They look at things differently than men and are empathetic. They look at the particulars in a different manner.”
Kimberly DeSimone is a professor at St. Bonaventure, where she teaches strategic leadership and diversity. She also believes that women’s soft skills greatly enhance the medical community; however, they haven’t been much appreciated until now.
“What’s going to distinguish the doctor is the soft skills,” she said.
She said that patients don’t have to rely upon their doctors as their only source of health information. Traits that make women stand above their male peers is their ability to provide compassionate care, active listening, and creative solutions.
“If you look at traditional characteristics ascribed to men and women, and there’s some validity to them, that can provide an opportunity for women to be more successful,” DeSimone said.
Still a long way to go
Women have come a long way — from a rarity at medical school to more than 50 percent — but in some areas, they still need to break through barriers.
DeSimone said that though the number of women entering medical school is promising, they haven’t all completed medical school. Plus, that doesn’t mean that an equal number of women are taking respected roles such as lead surgeons, researchers and professors.
She wants more women in leadership roles in the medical field so they can better reflect their communities. A more diverse group of leaders can offer input that better resonates with those they serve.
“In general, women make so many healthcare decisions, including for men,” DeSimone added. “The more diversity of thinking, the more creative solutions will come.”
She believes that since men have dominated in the medical field for so long, they have an easier time receiving promotions. DeSimone said that men are more successful with linear career paths, where women are more like kaleidoscopes, fulfilling many different roles.
“Women have always had to use the kaleidoscope path because the traditional trajectory hasn’t worked for them,” she said. “Women often have to take years off for childbirth or care for elderly relatives and other social requirements men don’t have to deal with.”
The male work ethos of commitment to the job doesn’t mesh with women’s usual role of maintaining the household and family.
“We’re at least overcoming barriers so that women are believing they can achieve success in male-dominated fields,” DeSimone said. “Equity needs to be judged from the top down.”