Text: Béatrice Schaad
Photo: Patrick Dutoit

In medicine, a woman is like a man

The number of women choosing to study medicine is constantly increasing.

However, starting with chief residents and every level of responsibility above, their number decreases and drops to practically zero when it comes to head physicians and senior faculty professors. Balancing motherhood and a managerial position in research or a clinic remains a seemingly Sisyphean task.

A debate emerged during the Suffragette era that remains unresolved even today: is it best to let nature take its course, so to say, by betting on the fact that the most pioneering women will eventually access positions of power, or is it better to shift the gender balance in managerial jobs through a variety of pro-active measures?

In medicine and research, the idea that women need support to pursue a professional career and private life is no longer taboo. Even those who opposed a quota system barely five years ago are asking for it today (read p. 29).

In a sign that opinions are changing, health institutions are developing measures to support women. At Lausanne University Hospital, the new regulations on job promotions within the hospital state in no uncertain terms that motherhood should not hinder a person’s career. This fundamental principle is paired with original ideas such as sharing executive management positions between two people and the option to use overtime to extend maternity leave. Finally, a pool of professional women will soon be created through which pregnant women can be hired if their normal job is too taxing. The academic world has produced countless ideas about how to revise job promotion criteria and adapt these requirements to fit a professional woman’s lifestyle.

The numbers speak for themselves. In 2016, nearly 600 women received a promotion at Lausanne University Hospital. Nearly 60% of all promotions were given to women. In academia, the scales are slowly shifting as well. Between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of women professors hired increased from 15.4% to 25%.

Without these initiatives, society as a whole would lose out on the investment made in their education. Women are ending promising careers due to a lack of support even as the country is facing a severe shortage of healthcare professionals. Finally, will not true equality only be achieved when measures allow men to fully enjoy fatherhood without them having to fight to make that possible? The day when this becomes reality, to paraphrase Simone de Beauvoir, man will have finally become, like woman, a human being. ⁄