03
September
2020
|
06:00
America/Tegucigalpa

Women’s and gender studies ideal training for med school, say students

Three U of A medical students may have different backgrounds and interests, but they share a passion for reducing inequities in health—and in the health system.

By GEOFF McMASTER

The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry welcomed three students trained in women’s and gender studies (WGS) this fall, which they say has given them a unique perspective on their chosen profession.

All three say gender studies have made them acutely aware of the social determinants of health—especially for vulnerable populations—and its relationship to social justice.

It’s not the first time a student with at least a minor in WGS has gone on to med school, but never have three done so in the same year, according to the department’s chair, Michelle Meagher.

They will begin their medical training with “rich and scholarly understanding of the diverse worlds their colleagues and patients come from,” as well as “the ways gender, race, class, age, sexuality, ability and size work together,” said Meagher.

“Their training in WGS prepares them for medical careers that might be focused on gender and health, but are just as likely to be grounded in social justice and feminist ethics.”

A wider view of nature and nurture

Marina Giovannoni earned a BSc with a major in biology with a minor in WGS at the U of A, and went on to graduate from the University of British Columbia with a master’s in reproductive and developmental sciences, focusing on cervical cancer self-screening.

“I’ve always been fascinated with genetics,” said Giovannoni. “I was raised with a certain set of assumptions. I liked the idea of unlearning and relearning about the world.

“I was interested in exploring the political side to genetics, and how genetics is intertwined in both racism and the perception of the inferiority of adoptive families over biological families.”

She said gender studies has given her a much deeper understanding of the complex interplay between genetics and the environment, and of her own place in the world.

“Luckily, I have the tools now to unpack that through gender and social justice,” she said.

While studying in Prince George, Giovannoni said she “fell in love with Indigenous health and rural medicine,” realizing it pulled everything she had learned into focus.

She is hoping to expand her knowledge of women’s health and will likely specialize in either family medicine or obstetrics and gynecology.

“I feel I have a thorough understanding of what patient-centred care is going to look like with respect to my practice—really focusing on working with a patient, and lessening the power imbalance between patient and physician.”

Uniting “hard” science and social science

Sauleha Farooq holds a BSc with a WGS minor, and has done research on the perspectives of Muslim women on their participation, perception of abilities and relationship to sports and exercise.

Her interest in gender equality emerged long before university, she said, when as a young girl she would find herself perplexed by the sexist assumptions of acquaintances and family friends.

“They would say, ‘Women are just too emotional’ or, ‘Girls were made weak, so that's why they can't be leaders.’

“I remember being so frustrated, eventually thinking, ‘I want the tools, I want the method, the literature to help me dismantle and dissect these types of statements.’”

When Farooq arrived at university, she declared her major in biological sciences, but took an English course with a professor cross-appointed with the WGS department.

“We studied these different poets, like Adrienne Rich and Marge Piercy. I remember being like, ‘Hey, these women have been fighting and theorizing against inequality, and I have so much to learn from them.’”

In her second year, she declared WGS as her minor, and was struck by the interplay between biology and gender studies.

“We would often come across the same types of issues, but from totally different perspectives,” she said. “Often we think data is data, and qualitative or more social sciences are separate. I want to put those two things together.

“I think in the current climate, it's going to be more important than ever to make sure we're questioning the systems in medicine to make sure we're not just talking about the loudest voices, but including all types of voices.”

Health care for every body

Kiera Keglowitsch discovered her interest in medicine and the body through dancing. She took much of her undergraduate training by correspondence while travelling with Ballet Edmonton.

She has just completed a U of A master’s degree in gender and social justice, focusing on women’s bodily autonomy in birthing.

“Like these other two fierce women here, I always had a little bit of fire in my gut about (sexism),” she said. “I was always the kid on the playground calling people out for offensive remarks.

“Gender studies allows an understanding of the social context in which health care takes place—sometimes those two things can be isolated from each other.

“It's so important to understand that whatever health issues are present cannot be isolated from different social inequalities people are facing.”

Keglowitsch said her primary interest is in obstetrics and gynecology, “even if that includes people who don't identify as women but have female anatomy.

“I'm interested in people who don't fit into clear male and female categories, and how medicine can better address that. I do think it’s a weakness of medicine to be so dependent on biological and sex categories.”

She said her passion for health care came from her dance background, and “being super fascinated by how the human body works.”

Like Farooq, she majored in biology in university but explored gender studies out of curiosity: “It was like my happy place to go to those classes.

“Often women’s and gender studies get framed as just about women's equality, which obviously is a huge component. But in today's day and age, it's expanded to become more about overarching social justice.”