According to a recent report by the Canadian Medical Association entitled “Addressing Gender Diversity in Canada’s Medical Profession”, Canada’s female physicians continue to face disproportionate discrimination in pay equity, harassment, and leadership. Though 54% of physicians in Canada are female, women are underrepresented in leadership roles in academic medicine and medical practice. For example, out of 17 Canadian medical schools, only two currently have female deans.
South Island physicians Dr. Maria Kang, Dr. Alicia Power, and Dr. Sarah Lea wanted to create opportunities for discussions around female clinicians in leadership roles. They used a South Island Medical Staff Association grant to support a mixture of round table events and small group sessions that generated tangible insights into some of the challenges of practicing medicine as a woman. Some of these include the absence of a physician-wide parental leave policy or guideline, minimal support for male parental leave, and ongoing challenges to the promotion of a family-friendly work environment.
For instance, one of the project leads recalled returning to work three months after having a baby and experiencing challenges in finding an appropriate place to pump and store breastmilk. “I had to on many occasions pump in a washroom while sitting on the toilet, or in the change room, with minimal privacy to do this”.
Dr. Kang, Dr. Power, and Dr. Lea emerged from these meetings with a list of clear action items. They committed to working with Island Health’s Medical Affairs department to roll out a physician leadership survey to generate local data on physician demographics and experiences. They will draft a physician statement in support of Parental Leave and seek a broad mandate of support from colleagues. They also undertook meeting facilitation skills to become more effective chairs of meetings. And two of the project leads, Dr. Maria Kang, and Dr. Alicia Power, were spurred on to become members of the South Island Medical Staff Association Executive as a result of these discussions.
Dr. Alicia Power explained that building “a network of women in leadership positions has enabled me to learn from those who have gone ahead.” Dr. Maria Kang remarked, “having a safe and supportive group to challenge each other has been instrumental for me and many of my colleagues involved in this project”. The group hopes to continue to build these connections and foster further opportunities for leadership and training.