The Science and Innovation Network and British Embassy in Israel held a “Women in Medicine” event in honour of Prof Dame Parveen Kumar, Henry Cohen Visiting Professor for 2017. Prof. Kumar, who has a special interest in the theme of women in medicine, is the first woman in recent years to be awarded this prize.
Fourteen women, Israeli health professionals of the highest calibre, gathered in her honour for lunch at the Ambassador’s Residence. This group of exceptional women consists of the most influential and brilliant within senior management in the Israeli health system as well as a wide range of expertise. There were top administrators from the Ministry of Health, chairs of ethics committees, hospital department heads, a newly elected medical school dean and even a university president, all from different medical disciplines: genetics, family medicine, woman’s medicine (not to be confused with gynaecology), psychiatry, anesthesia, haematology and more. Many of them are the only women in Israel who hold these positions.
It was interesting to hear what obstacles some of them, but not all, encountered while building their careers. The most common challenge described was raising a family while pursuing their ambitions. Another challenge was the attitude in the 80’s towards women who wanted to become doctors, although already then 50% of med students were female. One was asked to bring her husband along to her residency interview to get his permission. Another story we heard showed how men in senior positions may be unaware of these issues, which is another problem.
The UK and Israel have similar statistics regarding women in medicine (over 50%) and women in senior medical management (only 10-15%). Prizes are seldom awarded to women in academia. It was agreed that these figures must be changed – all agreed that the way to do this is by making sure that to every senior position and to every award call at least 50% of the applicants should be women. Women should not be picked based on their gender, but increasing female application rates will ensure that many more will be picked based on their outstanding credentials and capabilities.