International Women’s Day 2022
This year’s theme is #breakthebias.
I believe that IWD is worth mentioning and celebrating. Many believe that there is no difference between genders and that sexism is a thing of the past. While things are getting better, I wanted to take some time to quickly highlight some of the biases that we see in women’s healthcare, and how international women’s day can help you advocate for better care.
Statistically, women still do experience bias in healthcare. Here are a couple of examples. These stats are not meant to shame men or anyone, but to highlight some statistics in regards to women’s healthcare.
In a 2018 study, men in pain are often viewed as “stoic or “brave”, while women are viewed as “highly emotional” or “hysterical”. This can lead to less pain medication being administered to women in an outpatient or hospital setting.
In studies prior to 1990, researchers only used males participants. This has led to knowledge gaps which did not take into account women’s symptoms. A classic example is the heart attack. “Classical” symptoms of chest pain, left arm and jaw pain for heart attacks were based upon the male experience. Women’s heart attack symptoms may appear more as indigestion or nausea, lightheadedness, or fatigue and are less likely to report chest pain. Women’s heart attacks are often missed due to this bias in healthcare. This is not unique to heart attacks and happens in many areas of women’s healthcare.
It is also important to acknowledge that women of colour, trans folks, and intersex people are even further stigmatized and have poorer health outcomes in healthcare. This concept is called intersectionality.
The above examples leads to consequences such as the wrong treatments, delays in diagnosis, and in extreme circumstances can be fatal. It is important to know this information so you can speak up if you experience bias in healthcare.
So, knowing that there is some work to be done, how can you advocate for yourself?
Get to know your doctor – many doctors do meet and greets so you can meet them prior to committing to a therapeutic relationship. Remember, your doctor is a person too and you may be better with someone with similar values.
Engaging with your doctor’s treatment plan. Ask for alternatives, ask for cost breakdowns, ask for pros and cons of treatment to give you a fuller picture and more autonomy in your health.
Remember you have the power to choose and can decline care or remove consent at any time if something isn’t right for you.
Ask for your chart if you need it. It is your right to have a copy of your medical records. You can look at these yourself or take them to a new doctor or specialist.
Talk to your friends about your experiences, listen and learn from each other.
Bring someone you trust with you to the appointment for support if you feel the need for that.
I hope that having these strategies help lift you up and advocate for yourself and other women in healthcare. If you are not a woman, being an ally is still extremely important. We need each other to break the bias!
Let me know your experiences in healthcare have been in the comments below. Has your gender ever affected your care?
Have a wonderful day,
2018 Anke Samulowitz et al. “Brave Men” and “Emotional Women”: A Theory-Guided Literature Review on Gender Bias in Health Care and Gendered Norms towards Patients with Chronic Pain
2022 Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada : Heart attack signs in women often missed
Hoffman KM, Trawalter S, Axt JR, Oliver MN. Racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(16):4296-4301. doi:10.1073/pnas.1516047113