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Kingston experts examine role of women in medicine on International Women’s Day

Click to play video: 'International Women’s Day: Women in the medical field'
International Women’s Day: Women in the medical field
In honour of International Women's Day, we take a closer look at women in the medical field and a Kingston connection to Canada's first female medical doctor – Mar 8, 2022

In the West Wing of Kingston City Hall the Kingston Women’s Medical College was established in 1883.

It was funded in part by Dr. Jenny Trout, the first woman licensed to practice medicine in Canada.

Medical historian Dr. Jenna Healey says it was important to Trout that women had an opportunity to be trained in the medical field

“She had briefly attended the University of Toronto, where she had a very negative experience going to school with men,” said Dr. Healey.

The college ran for 11 years, with female students studying in a segregated environment, separate from their male counterparts.

“Even then, these attitudes persist that women don’t belong in medicine or that they deserve sort of limited spots,” said Dr.  Healey.

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“We have evidence that there were quotas for the number of women who were admitted to school. So some of the barriers to women persisted long into the 20th century,” she added.

Debra Lefebvre with Limestone City Mental Health says even now in 2022, there are inequities between men and women studying and practicing medicine.

Read more: ‘Gender based pay gap still exists’: the longstanding issues with workplace equality

“Certainly we’ve made some incredible strides,” said Lefebvre.

“But there are incredible inequities when I look at the landscape of, you know, executive positions, directors, and when I look at just basically equity issues.

“Discrimination, racial equity, we have a long way to go.”

According to Dr. Susan Phillips, a family physician and research director for Queen’s University’s department of family medicine, women continue to face barriers when entering certain specialties and advancing to leadership positions. They can earn less for the same work, and that’s not all.

“A significant portion of medical students reported being sexual harassed, whether by staff, other students, faculty or patients” said Dr. Phillips.

Read more: Newfoundland’s Memorial University orders sexual harassment probe at med school

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Dr. Phillips says women in medicine also face gender-specific interview questions like how they plan on balancing having a family and being a doctor.

“I think is a very reasonable question if it’s asked of everyone, but it’s not,” said Dr. Phillips.

“I’ve never heard a male resident or student say that they were asked that question.”

While women in the medical field agree that there is still much to strive for, much has changed since the last women studied at Kingston City Hall, with Dr. Healey saying women now outnumber men in medical school.

“The fact that we actually have more women in medical school than men is really quite extraordinary and it represents a pretty significant historical change,” said Dr. Healey.

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The strength and sacrifice of Ukrainian women on International Women’s Day

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