March 13, 2024

Sask. Women Physicians Day shines spotlight on issues faced by women physicians

Celebrating Saskatchewan Women Physicians Day, which is March 16, highlights how far women have come in the medical profession, and how much work still needs to be done, says Dr. Megan Lyons.

“Women physicians are now a large part of the medical community in this province, but it was not that long ago that women were not even allowed to apply to medical school,” Dr. Lyons said. “There is still a lot of work to be done to support and empower women in medicine. Having a day to recognize that helps to keep the issues that women physicians face, for example, gender pay disparity, or discrimination in the workplace, in the spotlight.”

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) board has declared the third Saturday in March as Saskatchewan Women Physicians Day, in accordance with a resolution that was endorsed at the 2023 Spring Representative Assembly (RA).

“As women in medicine, we are often made to feel like we are not smart enough, dedicated enough, or deserving enough to be in our position,” said Dr. Lyons. “Any opportunity that we have to recognize the contributions of women physicians that have often been overlooked should be encouraged.”

In 2023, Dr. Lyons received a Dr. Setareh Ziai Inspiring Woman Physician Award from the organization Canadian Women in Medicine. She said the award signals to her that her work both inside and outside the hospital is valued by others. “I am inspired by many of the women physicians that I know and have worked with over the years, and I am grateful that I am able to inspire others as well.”

Saskatchewan Women in Medicine Networking Gala to be held March 23 in Regina

Dr. Sheila Parai brought forward the resolution to the 2023 Spring RA following the success of the first Sask. Lady Doctors Night in March 2023. “Women physicians swapped stories and established a comradery with our peers,” Dr. Parai said. “It is important to acknowledge and celebrate the advances that have been made thus far toward gender equity in medicine, but there is still work to do.”

Sask. Lady Doctors Night, which attracted more than 100 guests, was intended to align with the Canadian Medical Association’s recognition of Canadian Women Physicians Day on March 11. Organizer Dr. Mofolashade Onaolapo noted networking is difficult for women physicians working in remote locations across Saskatchewan.

“In addition, the female medical workforce in Saskatchewan is made up of women from diverse cultural backgrounds,” she said. “We recognize being female physicians, we sometime face challenges unique to us and that may not be widely understood by our male counterparts.”

The name of the event has been changed for 2024 – to the Saskatchewan Women in Medicine (SWIM) Networking Gala, which will be held on March 23 in Regina (click here for more information and to register).

“The SWIM night is designed to be a social night for women physicians, to foster interactions and promote networking among colleagues,” Dr. Onaolapo said. “We also want to use this event to bring to light the unique challenges faced by medical women in Saskatchewan and thus work with relevant authorities to address them.”

Dr. Parai noted the first woman physician was licensed in Canada 149 years ago. “While the medical community might have cracked opened the doors to women a long time ago, women physicians still lived and worked in a world where they weren’t considered ‘persons’ until 1929,” she said. “Saskatchewan Women Physicians Day on March 16 pays homage to the women in medicine that came before us, who we work with every day, and hopefully inspires the next generation of women physicians in Saskatchewan.”

Inspiring a new generation of women to take leadership roles in the health system is important, says SMA president Dr. Annette Epp. Women physicians hold key positions in many facets of medicine, including the Saskatchewan Health Authority and College of Medicine. She is the 56th SMA president and the seventh woman to serve in this role since the organization was founded.

“That speaks to the fact that we’ve closed some gaps, and we are represented in a lot of areas of medicine, not just as members but in leadership positions,” she said. “My hope is that this inspires the next generation. You have to see one to be one, as the saying goes. If women see other women in these positions, and they are provided with some mentorship, then maybe they will feel more able to aspire to these positions, too.”

New agreement addresses gender equity issues

Dr. Epp is particularly proud that for the first time, equity issues, including gender equity, are included as distinct provisions in the agreement ratified last month between the SMA and the Ministry of Health. Gender inequitable compensation for equivalent work is addressed in the agreement with the addition of $3.5 million to improve gender pay equity and improve fees for obstetrics and gynecology, which was the most disadvantaged section.  The agreement also increases the parental leave benefit to $2,000 a week from $1,300, with no Retention Fund clawback of benefits.

“These are progressive policies and I’m really proud that the Negotiations Committee included them as part of its platform for a new agreement,” she said. “This shows recognition of the importance of these issues and extremely forward-looking thinking to address them.”

Saskatchewan Women Physicians Day on March 16 pays homage to the women in medicine that came before us, who we work with every day, and hopefully inspires the next generation of women physicians in Saskatchewan.

Dr. Sheila Parai

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