Around the world, women play a crucial role in healthcare as they serve a disproportionately higher rate of caregiving and nursing roles, even dating back to the origins of nursing. As the United States Census Bureau states: “Your health care is in women’s hands.”
One out of every four healthcare jobs is held by a woman, which is why it's essential to celebrate women in healthcare. In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into women in healthcare—from leadership to advocacy—and explore the challenges women face in healthcare, as well as shine a light on some key women in healthcare leadership.
Women in Healthcare Statistics
According to the United States Census Bureau, women account for 76 percent of full-time, year-round health workers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics states that women account for 75 percent of total employment in hospitals, representing more than five million roles, and 77 percent of total employment in health services outside hospitals, accounting for more than eight million roles.
In some healthcare professions, such as nursing and speech pathology, women account for up to 90 percent of healthcare workers. In addition, since the turn of the century, women can be credited with 80 percent of the overall growth in the healthcare field through their role as professional women in healthcare, including leadership positions.
Challenges Faced by Women in Health
Despite women comprising the majority of healthcare workers in nursing, the gender pay gap in nursing persists. According to the Nurse Salary Research Report, the median salary for female nurses was $14,000 less than that of male nurses in 2022—almost double the difference in 2020.
In addition to a pay gap, a leadership gap exists in nursing too. According to a study cited by Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “Although women make up the majority of the health care workforces, they hold only nineteeen percent of hospital CEO positions, and they head only four percent of healthcare companies.”
Professional women in healthcare also experience gender discrimination. According to a study of older women doctors conducted in 2020, factors such as discrimination based on age and race persisted throughout their careers. Working in healthcare can also be an unsafe environment for women, as some have reported facing violence or sexual harassment while on the job and being excluded from decision-making.
Finally, as with many other professions, working as a woman in healthcare has an impact on family life. Experiences that are part of a woman’s life cycle, such as pregnancy and childcare, “become problematized due to their incompatibility with male work models that do not take life course events into account,” according to a study on gender discrimination and inequality in the health workforce.
Women in Healthcare Leadership
To recognize leaders in healthcare, we have compiled a list of three professional women in healthcare leadership, healthcare empowerment, healthcare advocacy, and healthcare mentorship who have made or are making waves across the country.
Margaret Higgins Sanger
Margaret Sanger was an American nurse, feminist, activist, and sex educator. She is known for her revolutionary work advocating for safe and effective birth control. In the face of persistent backlash, Margaret escaped the US in 1915 but returned to open the country’s first birth control clinic in 1916 before being arrested days later. Margaret was also involved in a collaboration that became the first oral contraceptive—Enovid.
Dr. Antonia Novello
Antonia Novello is a physician and public health administrator who was the first woman and first Hispanic woman to serve as the Surgeon General of the United States. As a woman in healthcare advocacy, she was involved in an initiative to end tobacco advertisements targeting children. Antonia initially served in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps before becoming the Deputy Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Dr. Mandy Cohen
As the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen is one of the women leaders in healthcare to know. She works to improve health and well-being in North Carolina, focusing on tackling the social determinants of health. She has been recognized for her work in addressing the opioid epidemic, including securing $90 million in funding for opioid prevention.
Final Thoughts on Women Who’ve Made an Impact in Healthcare | 2023
When learning about leaders in healthcare, it’s vital to recognize the role of women in advocacy, leadership, mentorship, innovation, and other aspects of healthcare. You don’t have to look far to find incredible professional women in healthcare; chances are several of them are in your workplace, and you may just be one of them yourself. Take a moment to celebrate women in healthcare—year-round—not just during national nurses week.