Championing Women in Health Care


Dr. Brandling-Bennett speaks of some of the advancements made by women in health care and what could be done to further support women in the workforce.

Today is International Women’s Day, a global holiday officially recognized by the United Nations in 1975 with historical significance reaching as far back as the early 1900s.

It’s a day that celebrates the cultural, political, and socioeconomic accomplishments of women worldwide. As such, HCPLive will be celebrating women by reporting on some of these accomplishments related to healthcare.

For today’s episode of DocTalk, Heather Brandling-Bennett, MD, Society of Pediatric Dermatology’s (SPD) VP of Education & Career Development and Associate Professor at University of Washington, and the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Dermatology at Seattle Children’s Hospital, spoke of some of the advancements made by women in health care and what could be done to further support women in the workforce.

“I think the biggest change is that women are now the greater percentage of medical students out there,” Brandling-Bennett said. “I think it was in 2019 that greater than 50% of medical students enrolled in US medical students were female. So that's a big change, and I'm pretty sure ever since then it's continued to go in the direction of more women than men.”

As more women continue to enter the medical field, Brandling-Bennett is hopeful that there will also be an increase in women in leadership roles, which she defined as one of the biggest challenges for women in healthcare today.

Currently, there is a higher percentage of men in higher academic ranks. However, areas of study such as pediatrics and dermatology have seen an influx in female doctors and residents in recent years.

Brandling-Bennett noted that pediatric dermatology in particular has historically featured more women than men, which was detailed in a recent career-oriented brochure from the Society of Pediatric Dermatology.

“In that brochure we looked at compensation, (and) one of our goals was to look at pediatric versus adults dermatology,” Brandling-Bennett said. “We are lucky that by and large, pediatrics is really thoughtful about women in the workforce, and dermatology is having to learn that as well fairly quickly.”

These advancements in representation in health care not only inspire women in the workforce, but they also create a more inclusive environment for patients as well, as Brandling-Bennett explained.

“I do a monthly combined clinic with one of our pediatric rheumatologists, and we had a fellow both from pediatric rheumatology and from pediatric dermatology in the room,” she said “And we went in to see a mom and her daughter and all of the 4 providers there were women. And the mom said to her girl, ‘oh my goodness, this is amazing! Look at this, honey, you have 4 female doctors helping take care of you. This would never have been the case when I was a kid.’ And I thought that that was really neat for the mom to notice that and to point out. She was really excited sort of telling her 7-year-old daughter, look, isn't this so cool?”

Crucially, Brandling-Bennett noted that, generally speaking, women are considered to be caretakers. Both professionally and personally, women often operate in the role of caretakers, which she notes can influence the perception of women in the workforce.

“On the work front, we tend to do a lot of that emotional support, both for our colleagues and for our patients, and there's interesting studies that have shown that patients expect us to be emotionally there for them more so than the provider, (and) that they expect us to spend more time with them,” she said. “That they expect us to ask more about emotional issues, and that their expectations of us vary based on our gender. So, I think that there needs to be some recognition of that, that maybe female providers aren’t going to see as many patients as a male provider because we're expected to spend more time with our patients.”

Recognition, as Brandling-Bennett eludes to, is key in supporting women in healthcare. The accomplishments of female doctors, residents, and other medical professionals are crucial to the success of the healthcare system and are deserving of proper recognition in the form of compensation, promotions, and more.

“We've learned that women are a vital part of the workforce, and if we don't put the right support in place, we will lose that part of the workforce,” Brandling-Bennett said. “And we don't want that.”

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