Empowered Rheumatologists – women leading the way

Kavitha MM MD, DNB, DM, SCE
Consultant Rheumatologist, Kauvery Hospitals, Chennai, India, Tamil Nadu

The role of a woman rheumatologist

A female rheumatologist significantly contributes to society, particularly in addressing the unique challenges faced by women with rheumatic diseases. Women aged 18 to 45, a group often sexually and socially active, commonly experience these conditions. In a cultural context like India, where discussing sexual and social matters with doctors is often considered taboo, female rheumatologists play a crucial role. Patients find it more comfortable opening up about sensitive issues, from lifestyle queries to intimate relationship concerns, with a female rheumatologist.

A woman rheumatologist offers a holistic approach to patient care, initiating discussions on reproductive health, contraception, and addressing concerns related to sexual well-being. This comprehensive care, covering both physical and mental health aspects, stems from the unique ability of female rheumatologists to initiate conversations on sensitive topics that are vital for overall well-being.

Queries such as addressing vaginal dryness, choosing suitable lubricants, and discussing transvaginal estrogen preparations for peri-menopausal patients with mood swings are essential aspects of care that women rheumatologists actively can engage in. Patients inquire about various lifestyle matters, from alcohol consumption frequency to resuming sexual activity after a period of abstinence due to a rheumatic disease diagnosis. Addressing these queries based on disease activity, providing advice on contraception, and ensuring comprehensive care should become a  part of the daily routine for female rheumatologists.

The challenges

However, women rheumatologists face challenges, both professional and personal. Balancing career aspirations with family responsibilities, especially concerning motherhood, is a common struggle. The internal dilemma of prioritizing between professional growth and personal life is a significant aspect that many women in rheumatology grapple with. Overcoming the guilt associated with leaving a young child at home while pursuing a demanding medical career requires resilience.

Addressing professional challenges, women rheumatologists often confront a gender gap in leadership roles and representation at conferences. The need for more women in administrative positions, as evidenced by low participation in recent IRA elections, reflects an existing disparity. While reservations based on gender are not advocated, efforts to ensure adequate representation of women in leadership roles should be a priority.

The probable solutions

Encouragement and support from both peers and seniors play a crucial role in empowering women rheumatologists. Establishing a strong support system is essential for women to navigate through the demands of their profession and personal life successfully. Moreover, fostering an environment where women feel encouraged to take on administrative roles is crucial for addressing gender disparities.

The prospective course

Looking into the future, a female rheumatologist is envisioned as someone with heightened empathy, an effective work-life balance, financial independence, and an eagerness to take on administrative responsibilities. While women are making strides in the field, efforts are needed to ensure their adequate representation in conferences, scientific sessions, and administrative roles. It is imperative that organizers and decision-makers actively address gender disparities, promoting inclusivity and equal opportunities.

In conclusion, a female rheumatologist brings a unique perspective to patient care, addressing sensitive issues and contributing to comprehensive well-being. Overcoming personal and professional challenges, fostering a supportive environment, and promoting gender equality are key factors that will shape the future of women in rheumatology.

Further Reading

  1. Wolgemuth T, et al. Exploring the Preferences of Women Regarding Sexual and Reproductive Health Care in the Context of Rheumatology: A Qualitative Study. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2021;73(8):1194-1200. 
  2. Mohansundaram K, Sowndhariya VA, Ravindran V. Does gender gap exist in Indian rheumatology? Analysis of faculty gender representation at its annual conferences. Indian J Rheumatol. 2021; 16(3):248–253.