The Nordic experience: the gender equitable EM workplace

Professor Maaret Castrén has spent much of her working life breaking down barriers.

As a nurse in Finland in the late 1970s she worked in hospitals where few – if any – of the senior specialists were women. Yet her love of medicine drove her to become an anesthesiologist and then an emergency physician, pioneering the development of the specialty in her country.

Today she is Head of the Department of Emergency Medicine and Services in Helsinki and leads prehospital and emergency care for the three biggest cities in Finland. She is a Professor of Emergency Medicine in Finland and a past Chair of the European Resuscitation Council.

At the ACEM 2017 Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney in November, Maaret will be opening the Tuesday morning Plenary session, ‘Gender equality in medicine – getting the balance right’ with her presentation, ‘The Nordic experience: the gender equitable EM workplace’.

Do not miss the opportunity to attend the ASM and hear keynote speakers like Maaret. Register now! 

Northern light

Maaret is aware that Finland has a reputation for being especially progressive when it comes to addressing gender inequality. In 1906 it was the first country to give women the right to both vote and run for office and today its Parliament has one of the highest proportion of female representatives of any Government in the world.

But she also knows that the gender gap in Nordic countries is far from closed.

She mentions a recent study from Sweden that explored the question of why most senior research positions are filled by men. It found that men were able to get grants more easily and were thus in a better position to take advantage of opportunities later on in their careers.

“I was wondering why men were able to get grants and I realised that I hardly ever see women being used in the promotional material of a research grants body,” she says. “So I spoke to one of the top charitable fundraising organisations in Sweden and they told me that when they used women on the front cover of their fundraising material, they found people gave less money!”

“Try understanding that!”

Slow but sure

Even though there’s no question that efforts to close the gender gap in healthcare need to continue, Maaret also acknowledges that much has changed during her lifetime.

“When I started working as a physician in emergency care in the pre-hospital setting in 1992, I was the only woman,” she recalls. “That continued for many years, but now I’m head of that area and when I look at the gender split in my residents, it’s about 50/50.”

Equally, when she became the first female chair of the European Resuscitation Council, she asked the editor in chief of the journal to look into why there were so few women on the editorial board.

That situation has now changed for the better.

“I come from an era when men viewed the presence of women in medical school as frightening.” Maaret recalls. “During the 1980s when I was getting my medical degree, two of my professors tried to instill a minimum quota for the number of male medical students! They said they just didn’t think women could handle the degree of focused concentration that was required to do something like surgery.”

“I was working as an operating nurse at the time and one afternoon I took them aside and asked them, who do you think is holding the leg of the patient up for hours while the surgeon is operating? Who is overseeing the patient, the instruments and so on for the duration of the operation? Nurses! Usually female.”

Getting warmer

Some of the shifts in gender equality that Maaret has seen may not have made the headlines, but they’re still welcome.

“There’s a big tradition in Finland of going to the sauna with your colleagues to talk about work and so forth,” Maaret says. “So for many years I was the only female senior member of staff and I’d be invited along with my male colleagues but couldn’t sit in the same room as them. It’s quite weird when you think about it, inviting someone to a sauna evening and then having them sit by herself!”

“Today, I’m Head of a Department and because there’s five other female department heads, I don’t have to sit alone when there’s a sauna evening.”

“So that’s progress!” 

A compelling and interactive program

This year’s ASM will be held in Sydney from 19-23 November at the new Sydney International Conference Centre, and will focus on the themes of ‘Impossible is just a perspective’ and ‘Getting the balance right.’

The meeting will offer a compelling and interactive program, broad enough to cover the full gamut of emergency medicine, with a line-up of the most inspiring, entertaining and knowledgeable speakers in the emergency medicine world today. Each will be taking on the hard topics and exploring the nuanced discussion, plus cutting-edge research and novel ways to translate into practice.

Check out the program and registration details on the ASM website.