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Aching for Equality: The Fall of Females in the Medical Field

Image described in caption
The top half of the image shows 3 cubes of wood. The left cube shows the symbol for female gender in pink. The middle cube is balancing on an edge and it shows both the inequality symbol and the equal symbol on different faces of the cube. The right cube shows the symbol for male gender in blue. The cubes are against a pink and blue background. The bottom half of the image has the words "Aching for Equality:" in big, dark blue text and the words " The Fall of Females in the Medical Field" in smaller, bright pink text. The text is against a pale pink background

To mark International Women's Day (8th March), we have this guest blog from Writer & Blogger, Holly Dodd. In September last, we shared a blog on the Inequalities of Chronic Pain, in which we explored some of the ways different groups of marginalised people are shown to have higher prevalence of chronic pain, and are given a reduced standard of healthcare. Holly's blog focuses specifically on the Gender Pain Gap, and delves further into the why of it all.

Aching for Equality: The Fall of Females in the Medical Field

For ages, gender bias has been a part of society, sometimes hidden, sometimes right under your nose. One troubling example of this is the Gender Pain Gap. A difference in how pain is felt, communicated, and handled by women and men.

Despite continual attention on this issue, there's still a trend in a system that dismisses women's pain. At Flippin' Pain we work towards a future where pain, regardless of gender, gets the right recognition.

Understanding the Gender Pain Gap

The Gender Pain Gap is a tricky issue. It covers everything from biology behind pain to how feelings are seen and accepted in medical environments.

Studies suggest that women are more likely to suffer from chronic pain conditions. From migraines to cardiac pain, a consistent trend emerges – women’s pain is often downplayed or dismissed. Even when pain is acknowledged, women are half as likely to be given pain relief.

This is often due to a lack of research on female-specific pain responses. Despite 70% of chronic pain patients being women, 80% of pain studies are conducted on males. This under-representation in trials has meant that treatment for women is catered towards males, and often inadequate.

The Root of the Problem

At the heart of this disparity lies centuries of gender bias. From the 'hysterical woman' myth to more modern, subtler variations. There remains a societal tendency to question the legitimacy of female pain. Medical biases further compound the issue, resulting in under-recognition of women's symptoms, leading to inadequate care and even disability in some cases.

Women were banned from medical trials following the thalidomide scandal in the fifties. The FDA put out a rule in 1977 to exclude women of "childbearing potential" from clinical trials. This removal increased the gap of knowledge concerning women's health for a further 20 years.

Impact on Wellbeing

When pain isn't handled properly, it can make existing health issues worse and cause more complications. This may mean the difference between living independently or feeling overshadowed by suffering and disability. The impact on mental health is tough and 1 in 4 women with chronic pain also have diagnosed depression.

The lack of access to proper pain management can limit their work, and family care. Studies explain how 30% of women said their pain affects their social life, and 1 in 5 said it has stopped them from working. This ripple effect can continue cycles of poverty and exclusion, which only fuels gender bias and supports inequality.

Medical Misdiagnosis and Bias

Female patients frequently experience medical bias, resulting in delayed or incorrect diagnoses. The phenomenon of 'gender blindness' in healthcare can lead practitioners to miss underlying conditions or dismiss symptoms as 'over-reacting’.

These lingering misconceptions about women and pain are felt by patients themselves. 1 in 2 women reported feeling like their pain was dismissed, simply because of their gender. Although there are many ways to address and manage pain through lifestyle changes, medical intervention like surgery and stimulants are needed for persistent pain. Feeling ignored by their GP can lead to women not seeking help and suffering in silence.

It's also not helpful that women make up a handful of the professional field. Only 1 in 5 pain physicians are female. Talking about private medical matters with the opposite sex means receiving empathy and understanding is more difficult. This might be why 32% of women state they feel uncomfortable when discussing female health conditions.

Bridging the Gap

Empowerment and Advocacy at the Individual Level

One great way to tackle the Gender Pain Gap is by empowering individuals. When we support women in speaking up about their healthcare experiences, we can shift how pain is understood and sorted.

Education and Transformation in Healthcare

It's key to push for gender-sensitive education in the medical field. By improving our knowledge of biological differences and questioning internal biases, we can start reshaping healthcare. This will help to back women's health needs.

Research and Policy as Agents of Change

Thorough research on how men and women respond to pain is key to shaping best practices. Outside the lab, governments need to step in and create a fairer system. This could mean pushing for more women in clinical trials or installing guidelines that make sure pain management is fair for all genders.

The Way Forward

In conclusion, The Gender Pain Gap is a big issue, it's everywhere and can't be ignored any longer. By having open, informed chats, we can get the conversation of change flowing. Through properly funded and inclusive research, we can move towards a future where pain is acknowledged and dealt with equally. This won't wipe out the painful chapters of our history, but it's a step towards a fairer future for generations to follow.

Written by Holly Dodd,

Writer & Blogger

Image described in caption
Headshot of Holly, a woman with fair skin, long goldeny brunette hair, with warm, neutral make up and smiling



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