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Why Healthcare Needs More Women Leaders


Avanthi Jayaweera

Education and Advocacy Fellow, American Medical Student Association

Being a woman in healthcare can be frustrating. I remember being told to lower the tone of my voice if I wanted to be taken seriously; that if I wanted to appear more assertive, I would need to stop smiling as much. I was told that sitting quietly and keeping my mouth shut is the proper and decent thing to do as a woman. I disagree.

Being a woman makes me a strong person. I do not need to change the way I speak or how much I smile in order to be a successful future physician. In fact, as a patient advocate, sitting around and staying silent is the worst thing I could possibly do for my patients.

Instead, I chose to stand and speak up to fight for the access to affordable care and medicines. As a former co-president of our local American Medical Student Association chapter at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, I was able to organize multiple lobby days to empower my peers to use their political voice to make meaningful changes for our community. We would advocate for legislation regarding Medicaid expansion, access to medicines and other health policies that reduced health disparities. But even with these additional experiences, I chose not to stop there.

I will continue strengthening my advocacy strategies and mobilizing my colleagues to act on important public health issues. If I had listened to all those who said that I was “too feminine,” I would have never became the strong leader that I am today.

Yet, what is most disappointing is the continued existence of gender parity in health care leadership. Even with greater numbers of total women in medicine, the proportion of women in higher academic ranks continues to be lower than our male counterparts.

If we are to build a health care system that is inclusive of all, leadership must be representative of all in order to value diverse backgrounds and opinions. Collaborating in a team without diversity is our biggest limitation to greater success.

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