Medicine’s Gender Revolution: How Women Stopped Being Treated As ‘Small Men’

Posted on October 4, 2017

Until the turn of this century, except for the area of female reproductive medicine, there was very little sense in Western medicine that gender mattered: The male body was the universal model for all anatomy studies, clinical trials mainly involved males (but nonetheless the results became evidence base for the diagnosis and treatment of both genders), and medication dosages were typically adjusted for patient size, where women were simply “small men”.

The reasons for this imbalance in medical research include availability to participate, concerns about the impact on women’s reproductive health, the impact of menstrual cycles on the trials, and simply financial reasons (restricting difference reduces the required sample size, making trials cheaper). Ironically, women were excluded from trials because they are different, but the results were applied to them as well because they are nearly the same as men.

Luckily, in the last 20 years gender – along with factors such as ethnicity and socioeconomic status – has been explicitly recognized, and mainstream medical research has begun to seriously explore gender differences and bias in academic and clinical medicine.

The most prevalent impact gender has on medicine is evident in how, when and why a person accesses medical care, and the outcomes of that access. For example, women are less likely to seek help for a heart attack, because their symptoms make it harder to identify. In mental health, men show higher rates of suicide, however depression – which is strongly linked to suicide – is more common in women. Another example is that two-thirds of blind people in the whole world are women, even when the data is adjusted for the fact that women live longer than men. Lastly, as an example of sociological differences that need recognition, women who see a doctor with an eye socket fracture or ruptured eyeball are at risk of dying – not from the injury, but from a further assault by a perpetrator of family violence.

Overall, gendered medicine is not only about women, but also about identifying differences in clinical care and making sure that the best health care is provided for everyone. It also involves equity of health care access, and about gender equity in the composition and roles in the profession. Gender is also not the same as sex, because sex is the biological and physical male-female differences, while gender is the social and cultural behaviors we attach to the biological aspects of sex.

In order to further develop a balance in gender throughout medicine, data from clinical trials needs to be sorted by gender, so knowledge bases can be gradually improved. Additionally, gender needs to be taken into account in all medical training as well as clinical practice – not just in disciplines such as gynecology.

Category(s):Academic Issues, Health / Illness / Medical Issues, Women's Issues

Source material from The Conversation

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