Women in Podiatry
“If society will not admit of a woman’s free development, then society must be remodeled,” Elizabeth Blackwell proclaimed. Elizabeth sent multiple letters requesting admission to multiple medical schools, only to receive an equal number of rejections. One medical school dean, perceiving her presence as a threat to the male contingent, wrote “You cannot expect us to furnish you with a stick to break our hands with.” Elizabeth would go on to become the first women to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849.
In lower extremity healthcare, as well as many other medical specialties, it hasn’t been easy for women to succeed in traditionally male-dominated roles. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), the profession was almost exactly 75% men and 25% women in 2015 (Beth Shaub, 2016, as cited in Delzell, 2016). This year, the 52% female Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine (CPM) incoming class of 2023 offers a shimmer of equality across the profession, not familiar to Elizabeth Blackwell or CPM classes of the past.
But while gender demographics both in the classroom and in the operating room have shifted toward parity over time – in some specialties more than others –challenges remain. Though a well-respected surgeon and faculty member, Dr. Christina Pratt, CPM Assistant Professor in the Division of Podiatric & General Medicine asserts that still in 2019, there are discrepancies in the way women are perceived in the profession. “As a female physician and surgeon in a historically male-dominated profession, it many times comes with concern that people perceive you as being weak, as more assistant than leader, and that your work or ability may not be taken as seriously as your colleagues or by your patients. With that, it is admittedly more difficult to enter and command an operating room. It can be more difficult to earn patient rapport,” she claims. But that doesn’t stop Dr. Pratt from taking control of the impact she can make, fighting what often feels like an uphill battle, “A way to overcome this is perhaps to ignore any perception of inability or inadequacy, to take it upon yourself to become well-educated and well-trained, and with continued and active involvement within our profession.”
While a balanced profession will undoubtedly require an overdue modernization of old-school perceptions, the face of podiatry is changing, as proven by the majority of female students in the class of 2023. “There is a sensitivity and an insight and perspective that can be provided quite exceptionally by your female surgeon,” Dr. Pratt appeals. CPM is working to empower today’s female students and cultivate them into leaders of tomorrow and of generations to come, and Dr. Pratt is eager to be a part of this trend as she works with CPM Enrollment Management to interview prospective incoming students each year. “I look forward to watching the incoming female student physicians take on leadership positions within the College and eventually, within our profession,” Pratt concludes, “I would encourage them to not be afraid to step out of comfort zones, seek out challenges, and appreciate being a part of actively changing statistics in medicine.”
Delzell, Emily. (2016, October). Women’s Work: Overcoming gender barriers in lower extremity specialties. Retrieved from https://lermagazine.com/cover_story/womens-work-overcoming-gender-barriers-in-lower-extremity-specialties