Reflections on International Women’s Day – Dr. Margaret Steele

As I reflect on what has happened over the past year with the global pandemic I realize that we have much to celebrate but also many areas to continue to advocate for women. The global pandemic has created significant hardship for individuals and families but particularly for single mothers who often live in poverty. For these women, juggling work, their children’s care and schooling when they may not have funds for internet and ipads is incredibly difficult. As women physicians, we must advocate for these individuals and others living in poverty, with food insecurity, mental health difficulties, and other challenges. We need to embrace their strengths and treat them with kindness. We have seen many women world leaders such as Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, lead with integrity and compassion during this difficult time. These women have been remarkable role models.

More than 50% of individuals entering medicine now are women; however, there are still too few women in senior leadership roles in healthcare and academic medicine. I am proud to be a woman dean and child and adolescent psychiatrist. I feel incredibly humbled by being able to work with women, children, youth and families, and to enable a positive difference in their lives. I take my decanal privilege and responsibility very seriously and lead the academic mission of a medical school to educate compassionate and competent physicians and healthcare researchers addressing the research questions that matter to people.

As the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland, I have made a strong commitment to address the issues of equity, diversity and inclusion for our students, staff and faculty, particularly given the events of 2020, including Black Lives Matter. We are looking at all aspects of the medical school including admissions, curriculum, policies and procedures, the learning environment, recruitment and retention to significantly improve equity, diversity and inclusion in our medical schools and in healthcare.

As women physicians we have many opportunities to collaborate and advocate for a more equitable society. At no other time in history has this been more important. We need to create space to have the difficult conversations about how we can improve health outcomes for Indigenous people and their communities, disabled individuals, racialized minorities, and women. I am inspired by the women around me who are leading initiatives to improve the lives of their patients and their communities and having these conversations.

International Woman’s Day is an important day to recognize women’s strengths and accomplishments but also to continue to advocate for women, other women physicians, and our patients. One of my passions is mentoring and sponsoring women physicians so they can exceed beyond their wildest dreams to make a difference in people’s lives. On this International Women’s Day of 2021, I encourage you to celebrate your own accomplishments but also celebrate those of your women colleagues, family members, and friends. Dream big, women have so much to contribute to make healthcare accessible, equitable, and inclusive as well as to address the social determinants of health. Happy International Women’s Day 2021!!!

Dr. Margaret Steele