The feminization of medicine is undeniable

In the first year of medicine at Laval University in 2021, 71.3% of the cohort was female. All Quebec universities combined, women today represent two-thirds of future physicians. Still overrepresented in family medicine, they are nevertheless increasingly investing in specialties.

Posted at 5:00 a.m.

Louise Leduc
The Press

On Twitter a few weeks ago, a photo published by the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Montreal – showing all second-year medical students – testified at a glance to the feminization of the profession.

The Dr Patrick Cossette, who is dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Montreal, but also president of the Conference of Deans of the Faculties of Medicine of Quebec, notes that this feminization of medical students, which began in the 1990s, seems to stabilize.

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PHOTO MELANIE DUSSEAULT, PROVIDED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTREAL

Second-year cohort of medicine at the University of Montreal, during the taking of the white coat, a symbolic event that has long been postponed due to COVID.

In recent years, on average, two out of three future doctors have been women, he observes. In French-speaking universities, it exceeds 70% in places depending on the year, while McGill is the closest to parity, with 54% of female students and 47% of students for the 2021 cohort.

Also in specialties

Where things are moving, note the Dr Cossette is on the side of specialties, which until now have been the preserve of men – such as surgery and urology, he mentions – and which are also beginning to attract female students.

Apart from the few seats reserved for Aboriginals in Quebec faculties on a statutory basis, the gender, origin or ethnocultural roots of candidates are not taken into consideration. In the faculties of medicine, “there are no quotas”, says the Dr Cossette.

It is therefore on the strength of the R score, but also on the basis of the interviews carried out with the candidates, that young people are admitted or not to the faculties of medicine.

The DD Diane Francœur, gynecologist-obstetrician and ex-president of the Fédération des Médecins Spécialistes du Québec, points out that Quebec, with its vast majority of female medical students, stands out from the rest of Canada, “where it is enough half and half”.

Much less attracted to genius, women are massively heading towards health. Their files are very strong, and “they are very multitasking”, notes the DD Francoeur.

Nevertheless, she still hears very good students say that they will not be able, like her, to go into obstetrics or gynecology because they want a family. The DD Francoeur believes that this is quite possible by having a good network. “Men also take parental leave now,” she observes.

And whether you’re a man or a woman, “if you don’t want to take your shift, you have no place in medicine”.

If need be clarified, patients are in good hands when they are cared for by women. In 2017, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study concluding that hospitalized patients aged 65 and over who formed the sample had a lower mortality rate and risk of readmission if their treating physician had been a woman.

According to the hypothesis put forward by the authors, women might be more inclined to respect the protocols and more focused on prevention.

Women are overrepresented in family medicine, but they are very close to men in specialties as well. The Federation of Medical Specialists of Quebec says it has 47% women and 53% men in its ranks.

Many men among managers

Isabelle Auclair, professor in the management department of Laval University and holder of the Claire-Bonenfant Chair – Women, Knowledge and Societies, has studied the question of the feminization of certain professions. As far as medicine is concerned, she points out that although, numerically, women are now more numerous, even in the majority in certain specialties, they are still largely managed by men, many more of whom are managers.

It is not normal, in an organization where we are becoming more and more feminized, to have a man as head of department, a man as head of service and for the program director to be a man when we have only women who follow the program.

Physician who participated in a 2016 study on the feminization of professions cited by Isabelle Auclair, professor in the management department of Laval University

The doctors interviewed for the purposes of her research brought Mme Auclair observes that “the double injunction of performance weighs heavily on women. We will talk about the culture of performance in the medical field, but also about performance in relation to the gendered expectations of care for others, including parenthood”. This is all the more the case, she says, since the organization of work remains essentially the same as when doctors had wives at home.

At the same time, doesn’t work-family balance have certain limits insofar as certain specialties are very specialized and there may be emergencies… very urgent? Of course, says M.me Auclair, but in several cases, “replacement systems could be put in place on a much broader basis than what is currently being done”.

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The article is in French

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