Eva Fong

Urologist, Waitemata DHB, Urology institute

My aspirations for women in New Zealand are for women to have fewer barriers to full participation in all aspects of society.
Specific to my role as a healthcare professional, I would like to advocate for women to be “heard” and for the healthcare system to be better enabled for women’s health needs.
My work with mesh-injured women (>250 women) and participation in the restorative justice process (https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/hospitals-and-specialist-care/surgical-mesh/hearing-and-responding-stories-survivors-surgical-mesh-updates)has allowed me to work closely with consumers in co-design and patient advocacy. The overwhelming themes of the restorative justice process were not being listened to and not being believed by medical professionals.
This is a reflection of the training and culture of medical practice rather than individual deficit in most cases. Historically most medical research was performed on male cohorts with extrapolation to women, as cited in the Guardian recently (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/nov/13/the-female-problem-male-bias-in-medical-trials)
As female medical professionals there are also significant barriers to participation.
A 2019 study by Dr Charlotte Chambers, from the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, described key points of :
“limits on their opportunities
extra mental load because medicine assumes primacy over doctors’ lives and has low tolerance for personal or domestic circumstances, and subtle inequities in interactions with colleagues and patients.”
The barriers to leadership are even higher with a 2020 American medical association study showing that “ccording to the American Medical Association, “women account for just 3% of health care CMOs, 6% of department chairs, and 9% of division chiefs.”
In New Zealand, a recent NZ herald survey shows significant under-representation of women in surgical specialties (https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/the-uncomfortable-truth-how-gender-bias-in-our-medical-workforce-is-ruining-womens-health/BIGKSDJMEKUKXO2JMR52URZN3Y/) In my specialty, urology, women make up 17% of the NZ workforce. Recently my mentee (who is now a consultant surgeon) expressed a feeling of “not belonging” despite now being 14 years into our specialty.
My work with the ministry of health and consumer groups has involved significant advocacy for patient safety and improving the experience of women in the pelvic floor surgery space. However there has been significant resistance to change within the medical profession and this highlights the difficulties that women face in healthcare, whether as consumers or professionals.
By participating in leadership positions on the surgical mesh roundtable and credentialing committees with the ministry of health and within my district health board, as chair of robotic surgery credentialing, I hope to provide a role model and give assistance to other women to enter these spaces.
Ultimately diversity in this workforce will provide better patient outcomes and experience.