As a first-year student at the Medical College of Georgia, Sarah Sussman had a powerful role model to emulate: her grandmother, Dr. Harriet Sussman, who became a physician in the 1940s when it was much more difficult for women to get into medical school.
“Without pioneers like her and her classmates, we wouldn’t be where we are today where there are now more women,” Sussman said. “That shows the progress we’ve made as a society over the past century.”
For the first time in the U.S., more women are entering medical school this year than men. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, in 2017 there were 10,810 women or 50.7 percent of incoming medical students vs. 10,516 men. The number of women increased by 3.2 percent over the previous year while the number of men decreased slightly at 0.3 percent. Men still slightly outnumber women in terms of applicants, but that is nearly equal as well.
“We are very encouraged by the growing number of women enrolling in U.S. medical schools,” said Dr. Darrell G. Kirch, president and CEO of the AAMC and a former dean of MCG. “This year’s matriculating class demonstrates that medicine is an increasingly attractive career for women and that medical schools are creating an inclusive environment. While we have much more work to do to attain broader diversity among our students, faculty, and leadership, this is a notable milestone.”
The first-year class at MCG is almost equal at 116 men vs. 114 women. But class president Susan Brands said she really didn’t notice until someone pointed it out to her, and to her it signals that women are getting the opportunity to compete.
“I think it matters that it is getting to be equal,” she said. “It’s not necessarily more important that there are more females than males. Just the fact that there is an even playing field does matter.”
And why those students – male and female – are going into medicine is important. A survey of those students by the AAMC found they ranked being able to achieve a balance between work and their personal life as more important than having a “stable, secure future” or being able to pay off debt.
Brands and Sussman, both Augusta natives, said that is part of their motivation, too. In fact, it was concern about being able to achieve that balance that kept Brands from considering medicine until late in her college career, when she got the chance to shadow a female emergency room physician.
“She had a family, she had kids and she was just really happy,” Brands said. “Then I got really excited about it. Seeing her balance that so well kind of inspired me.”
It is part of the change in society away from roles men and women have traditionally played to allowing women to seek more of a blend, Sussman said.
“The paradigm is shifting that now women feel like they are able to have a career. But I think a lot of women still have the calling for motherhood and having a family,” she said. “Maybe that is why they are called to a profession like medicine because medicine is about serving others and taking care of patients. It goes along with the caretaker personality.”
Having the right attitude is essential now, Brands and Sussman agreed.
“Health care has changed a lot,” Sussman said. “I think now more than ever it is really essential for people entering the medical field to do it for the right reasons, because they want to take care of patients and they want to serve others. Now it’s more about compassion and less about having a high-paying job.”
“If you aren’t positive about medicine, you are going to lose your track pretty quickly,” Brands said. “That work-life balance is something that keeps you sane, keeps you going.”
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org