Support women medical professionals by teaching advocacy skills

Written by: Isobel Marks
Published on: Aug 17, 2020

Being young and female is often not a powerful combination. A young woman will frequently have her authority questioned and will struggle to be heard. What’s more, the undertone of comments can do extreme damage to self-esteem, goals, and ambitions.

People judge women through a range of suppositions. For example, they might say “oh, so you’re married.” But, they mean, “you’re going to have kids soon,” Or, they might say, “oh, you’re pregnant.” But, they mean, “you’re going to quit your career soon.”

These pre-judgements can impact us from the very start of our medical careers, and can stop us from being taken seriously in the workplace. But, there are ways we can act to support not only ourselves, but our entire community.

Advocacy is the tool and method that is needed to take ideas beyond ourselves, making our fight everybody’s fight, and enlisting a much wider support network to achieve our aims.

As young professionals, we are in an excellent position to achieve this, with strong skills in social networking and technology, and the creative flare to try new things. What’s more, before we become too entrenched within a health system already full of biases against women, we have the power to speak out more freely and openly against such oppressive systems, without necessarily risking our careers.

There are many different ways to advocate, and not all of them involve shouting and making a scene.

Looking strategically at your goals, figuring out who has the power, ability, and foresight to make changes, and understanding who that person listens to and respects can be more powerful than an all-out demonstration.

These skills, although not necessarily honed in medical school, can be taught on a peer-to-peer basis — and can achieve real and lasting change.

Women and men who want to achieve this may have to look beyond their own community, to groups that have previously been successful. Within the political world of global health and diplomacy, there are many such groups who have run highly successful advocacy campaigns and made changes at the highest levels of government, and to international law (Padamsee, 2020; Alcalde, 2009).  One example of such student-led innovation, is the open access button, which tracks globally when academics and students cannot access important research due to pay wall restrictions, and has been key in providing evidence to encourage the creation of open access journals and research. A second group is the Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), who campaign directly to universities to add clauses to their medicine patents in order to allow the development of drugs for use in low and middle income countries without restrictions.  From the standpoint of women in medicine, we too must think big and look at the methods that they used, from media strategy to research, innovation and policy.

Another thing to keep in mind is the diversity and strengths of our community. While being female has always held its own challenges, these challenges can be multiplied many times ethnic or religious minority status are added to the equation. We must recognize the heterogeneity of our experiences and our struggles — and accept that being female alone does not mean that we understand one another’s experiences.

Remember, young female professionals have the ability and power to make a real difference. But, to do so, they must be strategic, work together, and most importantly, be brave.




Dr. Marks completed her foundation training in North West London and is currently working in Major Trauma at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. Whilst training at Barts & the London Medical School, she worked as a paediatric surgical outcomes fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a research associate with the Program for Global Surgery and Social Change (PGSSC) at Harvard Medical School. Issy coordinated the International Federation of Medical Students' Association (IFMSA's) Global Surgery Working Group for two years, and was a founding member and chair of InciSioN, the International Student Surgical Network, afterwards chairing the InciSioN Board of Trustees. Issy worked as a WHO policy officer for the UK Department of Health and delivered advocacy training for the G4 Alliance at the 2016 World Health Assembly. Issy has led a number of international projects, including the 2017 surgical indicator collection for the World Bank’s World Development Indicators. She has also worked on several baseline assessments of surgical capacity in Nicaragua and Kenya.

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Alcalde, J. (2009) Changing the world : Explaining successes and failures of international campaigns by NGOs in the field of human security. Florence, European University Institute - PhD theses, Department of Political and Social Sciences.

Padamsee, T.J. (2020) Fighting an epidemic in political context: Thirty-five years of HIV/AIDS policy making in the United States, Social History of Medicine, 33(3).

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