Eradicating Gender Discrimination in Health Research

In Response to President Biden’s Initiative on Women’s Health Research

Executive Summary

In accordance with the recent White House initiative to promote equitable healthcare, this policy proposal is dedicated to identifying and systematically dismantling gender prejudice in healthcare, with a specific focus on disparities in pain management and maternal care (PM/MC). As we progress in an era where equitable healthcare is a fundamental right, our extensive research, bolstered by detailed real-world case studies, exposes a persistent issue of gender preconceptions ingrained at multiple levels of the healthcare system. This proposal aligns with the President’s memorandum, emphasizing the need for targeted research and reform in areas where gender bias is most prevalent, particularly in PM/MC.


These preconceived notions are not confined to patient-healthcare provider interactions but extends into the domains of medical research, academic training, and professional practices. In medical research, this discrimination can lead to skewed data and findings, impacting drug development and treatment protocols. Academic programs perpetuate these perverted views, influencing the perceptions and practices of future healthcare providers. Consequently, these systemic inequalities often go unnoticed yet have substantial impacts on professional healthcare practices.


The repercussions of this entrenched stereotyping are profound, affecting individuals across gender spectrums - men, women, and those of diverse gender identities. This results in varying experiences within the healthcare system, directly influencing the accuracy of diagnoses, the effectiveness of treatments, and overall health outcomes. Addressing and eliminating this imbalance is crucial for realizing a healthcare system that genuinely upholds inclusivity and equity, offering optimal care to every individual irrespective of their gender.


For further exploration of this topic, valuable resources include “Gender Bias in Medicine,” by Anita Holdcroft and the World Health Organization’s reports on “Gender Disparities in Health and Healthcare.” The study, “The Influence of Gender on the Frequency of Pain and Sedative Medication Administered to Postoperative Patients,” by Anita Holdcroft and Allen Lee in “Sex and Gender in Anesthesia,” offers critical insights into the manifestation of gender inequality in PM/MC. Additionally, the White House’s memorandum on healthcare equity provides a framework for aligning national healthcare policies with these critical goals.


In alignment with the recent White House initiative, this policy proposal tackles a critical and enduring issue within the healthcare sector: gender inequality. This preconception is not merely theoretical but manifests in practical, detrimental ways, influencing patient care and medical practice. Historically, there has been a significant predilection in medical research towards male-centric studies, creating a substantial knowledge gap in understanding female-specific health conditions, particularly in areas such as PM/MC. Diagnostic processes often underestimate or misinterpret women’s symptoms, leading to misdiagnoses, delayed treatments, permanent disability, or death. This lack of comprehensive research in women’s health, especially in PM/MC, underlines the importance of such research as advocated by the White House initiative.


The roots of such outdated beliefs are deep-seated and historically entrenched, manifesting through various movements and figures who have significantly impeded women’s healthcare. A key example is the Physicians’ Campaign initiated by Horatio Storer and supported by the American Medical Association (AMA). This campaign was instrumental in obstructing women’s reproductive choices, and led to the professional marginalization and unemployment of crucial women healthcare providers such as Granny Midwives, Peseshets, and Deaconesses. The campaign’s influence was profound, systematically reducing the presence and authority of women in medical professions and placing the control of women’s health increasingly in the hands of autocratic white men.


Additionally, the legacy of J. Marion Sims, fraudulently dubbed the “father of modern gynecology,” is an austere denial of his depraved medical practices. Sims conducted experimental surgeries on enslaved black women without anesthesia. Let that sink in. False beliefs of the era included, but were not limited to: women going through childbirth, if they truly are in pain, are meant to feel that pain because of the sins of Eve; women do not have pain receptors in their sexual organs; that women exaggerate the pain they are going through because they are looking for sympathy of their plight in life; as well as emphasizing misconstrued ideas underpinned by the prevalent “hysteria” diagnosis, a blanket term used to dismiss and abuse women’s pain by shaming the her for being “unmanageable” during medical procedures. It reflected a deeply entrenched belief that women’s pain, often genuine and severe, was merely a manifestation of emotional or psychological distress rather than a symptom requiring proper medical attention and PM/MC that remains pervasive today.


Further exacerbating these misconceptions was Anthony Comstock, a prominent figure in the moral reform movement. His role extended beyond activism; Comstock’s influence reached the federal government, culminating in his appointment as a U.S. Postal Inspector. Through this position, he enforced the Comstock Laws, which broadly censored the distribution of information on contraception and reproductive health in the guise of protecting the citizen’s morals by withholding what Comstock termed pornographic information and images. These laws had a chilling effect on women’s access to healthcare information and services, significantly curtailing their reproductive rights.


The combined actions of these figures and institutions have perpetuated an inaccessible gender and racial barrier in healthcare, consolidating medical authority within a Caucasian male-dominated paradigm of organizations and practices through the AMA of which they partly apologized for in 2008. Recognizing and addressing these historical roots is crucial in our ongoing effort to dismantle gender inequality and build a healthcare system that is truly equitable and inclusive.


In our era of rapid technological advancement and societal shifts towards equality, the need to address gender disparities is crucial for the healthcare system to reflect these societal changes, ensuring equitable service to all individuals regardless of gender or race. This aligns with the White House’s call for focused research and action in areas where women’s health has been reneged upon most often, such as PM/MC. The goal of this proposal is to transform healthcare into a realm where equity and inclusivity are not just ideals but practiced realities in the near future.


For further exploration of the historical context of gender bigotry in healthcare, “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank,” by Randi Hutter Epstein is an insightful resource. Additionally, the Journal of Women’s Health provides comprehensive studies on gender disparities in medical research. These resources, alongside the guidelines set forth in the White House initiative, offer a framework for understanding and addressing the vital need for comprehensive research in women’s health, particularly in areas like PM/MC.


The historical trajectory of gender discrimination in healthcare in the United States is inseparably linked to America’s anti-abortion movement propagated in the 19th century, was predominantly orchestrated by white male authority figures, including religious leaders and physicians. Central to this movement was the advocacy for the criminalization of abortion prior to the Civil War, a stance significantly influenced by the American Medical Association [1, 2] (AMA) and prominent figures like Horatio Robinson Storer. Their actions were driven by a desire to control women’s reproductive rights and assert male dominance in the medical profession, effectively sidestepping midwives and autocratically invalidating the safety of abortion procedures.


This period marked a pivotal shift in the awareness of abortion. Historically, when conducted under proper conditions, abortion was a relatively safe procedure. However, the narrative propagated by these male-dominated medical authorities was strategically designed to exaggerate the dangers of abortion, thereby consolidating their own power and authority in the medical community. This narrative also facilitated the systematic exclusion of midwives from reproductive healthcare, creating a professional and educational gap that is still evident today in the contrast between the roles and training of midwives and OB/GYNs.


The momentum of the anti-abortion movement was further fueled by religious ideologies. Clergy and theologians played a critical role, using their influential positions to shape public opinion and legislative policies against abortion, labeling it as immoral. This moral crusade exerted substantial social pressure, leading to a widespread stigmatization of abortion and restricted access to safe abortion services. The repercussions of these actions were profound, as evidenced by the desperate and dangerous measures women resorted to, such as using wire hangers for self-induced abortions, particularly in the pre-Roe era.Such extreme actions underscore the relentless pursuit of women to maintain autonomy over their reproductive rights, regardless of the legal environment.

The overturning of Roe in 2022 serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle for equitable healthcare. It highlights the critical necessity to confront and rectify these deep-seated injustices, which continue to shape the landscape of healthcare and have far-reaching societal consequences.


For more in-depth understanding, “The Making of Pro-Life Activists: How Social Movement Mobilization Works,” by Ziad W. Munson provides a comprehensive analysis of the anti-abortion movement. Additionally, Carol Joffe’s “Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe V. Wade,” offers valuable insights into the historical context and the ongoing impact of these movements on healthcare.

Impact of Social Determinants of Health

Economic Stability and Women’s Health. Economic stability critically affects women’s health. Lower income or poverty is linked to limited access to healthcare, nutritious food, and safe housing, leading to increased chronic diseases and mental health issues.

Education and Health Literacy. Education level is directly correlated with health outcomes. Higher education is associated with better health literacy and preventive health behaviors, while lower education levels often lead to higher illness rates and reduced life expectancy.

Healthcare Access and Quality. Access to quality healthcare is vital for women’s health. Women in underserved communities often face barriers like lack of insurance and limited women-specific healthcare services, which can delay diagnosis and treatment.

Social and Community Context. Social support, cultural norms, and community engagement significantly impact women’s health behaviors and choices. Supportive communities can promote healthy behaviors, while negative social norms may discourage women from seeking care.

Neighborhood and Built Environment. The physical environment, including air and water quality, availability of green spaces, and exposure to pollutants, affects women’s health. Poor environmental conditions can increase risks for respiratory problems and stress-related health issues.


For a more in-depth understanding of the impact of social determinants on women’s health, the World Health Organization’s “Social Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts,” provides a thorough exploration of how economic conditions influence health outcomes. Complementing this, the National Bureau of Economic Research’s “Education and Health,” delves into the correlation between education levels and health literacy. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s “Disparities in Health and Health Care: Five Key Questions and Answers,” offers an essential perspective on the challenges women face in accessing healthcare. Insights into the influence of social and community contexts are well-articulated in “Social Determinants of Women’s Health,” from the Journal of Women’s Health. Lastly, “Environment and Health for Women and Children: Key Messages,” by the World Health Organization is an informative resource on the environmental factors affecting women’s health and well-being. These comprehensive works collectively provide a nuanced understanding of the complex factors shaping women’s health in contemporary society.

Mental Health and Gender-Specific Disorders

Mental health is a crucial aspect of women’s overall well-being, with certain conditions disproportionately affecting them. Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, influenced by biological, social, and environmental factors. The prevalence of these disorders highlights the need for gender-specific approaches in mental healthcare.


Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders among women, often related to hormonal changes, social pressures, and life experiences unique to women. Anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, also show a higher prevalence in women. These conditions can be exacerbated by socio-economic factors, such as poverty and exposure to violence.


Eating disorders, particularly anorexia and bulimia, are significantly more common in women than men. These disorders are often linked to societal pressures and body image issues, underscoring the importance of addressing social determinants in mental health.


Postpartum depression (PPD) is another gender-specific disorder, affecting women following childbirth. While often misunderstood and underdiagnosed, PPD can have severe implications for both the mother and child, making early detection and treatment critical.


For a comprehensive understanding of mental health issues specific to women, “Women’s Mental Health: A Life-Cycle Approach,” provides a detailed overview. “Depression in Women: Understanding the Gender Gap,” by the Mayo Clinic offers insights into the prevalence and factors contributing to depression among women. The National Institute of Mental Health’s “Anxiety Disorders in Women: Setting the Research Agenda,” is an essential read for understanding anxiety disorders. “Eating Disorders: About More Than Food,” by the National Institute of Mental Health gives a thorough exploration of eating disorders in women. For postpartum depression, “Postpartum Depression: Current Status and Future Directions,” is a valuable resource for understanding this critical aspect of women’s health.

Cultural Competency in Healthcare Delivery

Cultural competency in healthcare delivery is essential for effectively addressing the diverse needs of women. This approach involves understanding and respecting cultural differences, beliefs, and practices that influence health behaviors and attitudes. Tailored healthcare approaches for diverse populations ensure equitable care and improve health outcomes.


Women from different cultural backgrounds may have unique health needs and perspectives on healthcare. For instance, some cultures have specific beliefs about childbirth, mental health, or preventive care, which must be acknowledged and incorporated into treatment plans. Language barriers, health literacy, and socio-economic factors also play significant roles in how women access and engage with healthcare services.


Healthcare providers must be trained in cultural competence to effectively communicate and empathize with patients from various backgrounds. This includes understanding the social determinants of health that affect different groups and addressing biases and stereotypes that may influence patient care.


For an in-depth exploration of this topic, “Cultural Competence in Health Care: Emerging Frameworks and Practical Approaches,” by the Commonwealth Fund provides valuable insights. “The Importance of Cultural Competence in Healthcare,” by the National Institutes of Health offers a comprehensive understanding of the impact of cultural factors on health outcomes. “Delivering Culturally Competent Nursing Care,” by Gloria Kersey-Matusiak is a resource that specifically addresses the role of cultural competence in nursing. “Cultural Competency and Health Literacy: A Guide to Health Care Providers,” from the Health Resources and Services Administration presents practical strategies for healthcare providers to develop cultural competency.

Technological Advancements in Women’s Health

Technological advancements have opened new frontiers in women’s health, offering innovative solutions to longstanding challenges and disparities. These advancements range from digital health tools and telemedicine to breakthroughs in reproductive technology and personalized medicine, significantly enhancing women’s healthcare.


Digital health tools, such as mobile health apps and wearable devices, have become increasingly important in monitoring and managing women’s health. They offer personalized insights into reproductive health, menstrual cycles, and fertility. Telemedicine has also transformed women’s healthcare, providing remote access to medical advice and consultations, especially crucial for women in underserved or rural areas.


Advancements in reproductive technologies, including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and genetic screening, have revolutionized fertility treatments, offering hope to countless women facing infertility issues. Personalized medicine, utilizing genetic and molecular profiling, is tailoring treatments to individual women’s needs, particularly in areas like breast cancer therapy.


For further understanding of these advancements, “Digital Health: A Path to Women’s Health and Gender Equality,” by the World Health Organization offers a comprehensive overview of digital health tools in women’s health. “Telemedicine in Women’s Health,” by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists discusses the impact of telemedicine. “The ART of Making Babies: The Current Status of Reproductive Technology,” provides insights into the latest reproductive technologies. “Personalized Medicine in Women’s Health,” by the National Institutes of Health explores the role of personalized medicine in treating women-specific health issues.

Elderly Women

Healthcare accessibility for elderly women encompasses addressing their unique health needs, which are often neglected or misunderstood in the healthcare system. Elderly women face distinct challenges, including menopause and its associated symptoms, chronic conditions, osteoporosis, and a higher risk of certain cancers.


The derogatory labeling of menopausal women as a “whiny woman” (WW) in clinical settings is a stark example of ageism and gender bias. This dismissive attitude can lead to inadequate care and a lack of empathy for the physical and emotional turmoil experienced during menopause. Addressing this bias is critical for providing respectful and effective healthcare.


Menopause management is a key aspect of healthcare for elderly women. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and other treatments can be life-changing for those struggling with severe menopausal symptoms. However, access to these therapies is often hindered by misconceptions and a lack of specialized knowledge among healthcare providers.


In addition to menopause-related care, elderly women require accessible preventive and treatment services for conditions like osteoporosis, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Tailoring healthcare services to the needs of elderly women, including home-based care options and specialized geriatric services, is essential for improving their health outcomes.


For further reading, “The Silent Suffering of Menopausal Women: Breaking the Silence,” from the Journal of Women’s Health provides insights into the challenges faced by menopausal women in healthcare. “Osteoporosis in Older Women: A Public Health Perspective,” by the International Osteoporosis Foundation discusses the management and prevention of osteoporosis in elderly women. “Geriatric Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach,” offers a comprehensive look at healthcare for the aging female population, emphasizing the need for specialized care and sensitivity to the unique challenges they face.

Impact of Environmental Factors

The impact of environmental factors on women’s health is a significant concern that spans across all ages. Women are uniquely affected by various environmental elements, including exposure to pollutants, chemicals, and other hazardous substances. These factors can lead to a range of health issues, from respiratory problems to reproductive health concerns.


Exposure to poor air and water quality disproportionately affects women’s health, increasing the risk of diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and certain types of cancer. Chemical exposure, particularly to endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in everyday products, can have serious implications on women’s hormonal health and reproductive systems.


Workplace environmental risks are another area of concern, especially for women in industries exposed to harmful chemicals or physical stressors. These occupational hazards can lead to chronic health issues and reproductive problems, including infertility and pregnancy complications.


Environmental factors also significantly impact maternal and fetal health. Prenatal exposure to pollutants can lead to adverse birth outcomes, developmental issues, and long-term health impacts for both the mother and child.


For further exploration, “Women’s Health and the Environment: What’s the Connection?” by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences provides a detailed overview of how environmental factors affect women’s health. “Environmental Risks and Breast Cancer,” by the Breast Cancer Prevention Partners highlights the link between environmental exposures and breast cancer risk. “Occupational Health: Recognizing and Preventing Work-Related Disease and Injury,” offers insights into workplace environmental risks for women. “Maternal and Child Health: Environmental Health Perspectives,” from the World Health Organization discusses the effects of environmental factors on maternal and fetal health.

Existing Research & Statistics

The prevalence of gender discrepancies in healthcare, particularly in pain management and maternal care (PM/MC), is a substantiated reality, not merely speculative. Empirical research and statistical evidence point to a consistent pattern of narrow-mindedness in healthcare. This manifests in various forms, notably in the treatment of common conditions like heart disease and the frequent minimization or misattribution of women’s symptoms to emotional or psychological factors, echoing an outdated notion of hysteria. The persistence of such prejudices underscores a critical gap in current research on the full extent and impact of gender discrimination in PM/MC, highlighting the urgent need for more inclusive and interdisciplinary research, as emphasized in the recent White House initiative.


A striking example of this bias is found in a 2019 study, which revealed that women are diagnosed later than men in over 700 conditions. This delay in diagnosis is not only significant but also particularly alarming in critical health emergencies. Women are 50% more likely to receive a misdiagnosis following a heart attack and 33% more likely after a stroke compared to men. Such diagnostic oversights can have life-threatening consequences. The situation is even graver for persons of color, where racial discrimination in medical settings is compounded.


The barriers women face in receiving equitable healthcare are particularly pronounced in the context of heart disease, a condition traditionally seen as male-centric. Women showing signs of a heart attack often face delayed or incorrect diagnoses, largely due to stereotypes about susceptibility to heart disease and a historical lack of research on its manifestation in women.


This disparity extends beyond cardiovascular health, with a notable gap in how women’s pain is perceived and treated. Research shows a systemic trend of underestimating and misdiagnosing women’s pain compared to men’s, leading to inadequate treatment. Such inequality in PM/MC underscores the need for a reevaluation of clinical approaches and more gender-inclusive research.


The overrepresentation of male subjects in clinical trials further exacerbates this issue, creating a significant knowledge gap in understanding how different health issues and treatments affect women. This is especially evident in PM/MC, where gender-specific responses to pain and treatment are not adequately studied.


To confront these disparities, a systematic overhaul of current research paradigms is imperative. This involves conducting gender-inclusive studies and embracing an interdisciplinary approach to unravel the complex interplay of gender, health, and pain management.


For a deeper understanding of these systemic issues, “Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick,” by Maya Dusenbery is an essential read. Additionally, “Sex Differences in Physician Diagnosis and Treatment of Emergency Department Patients with Chest Pain,” by Chiaramonte and Friend, as featured in Women’s Health Issues, provides a comprehensive analysis of gender disparities in heart condition diagnoses, further highlighting the critical need for change in healthcare research and practice.

Gender Imbalance in Medical Research and Development

Historically, gender imbalance stems from the exclusion of women from medical research and development (R&D) which would lead to their eventual participation in R&D’s clinical trials and medical studies. The exclusion of women is due to concerns over unknown potential impacts on fertility and the risk of birth defects. This exclusion, based on the assumption that the female reproductive system’s variability could confound research findings, has resulted in a considerable gap in our understanding of how various drugs and treatments impact women, who may respond differently to medications than men.


In stark contrast, the influence of male reproductive health on medical R&D, especially in areas like semen quality and fertility, has received notably less attention. The reproductive health of male participants is seldom considered a variable in study outcomes, despite growing evidence indicating that certain medications and even alcohol consumption can adversely affect sperm quality and male fertility. This double standard in medical research highlights a gender bias with serious consequences, leading to healthcare outcomes for women that are less effective or even harmful. The majority of medical knowledge and treatment guidelines have been developed based on male-centric research, overlooking women’s specific health needs.


Addressing this issue requires a decisive shift towards more inclusive research practices, including public-private partnerships and collaborative research efforts. These alliances are crucial for integrating diverse perspectives and expertise, ensuring medical research and development benefit all genders equally. This approach aligns with the recent White House initiative’s objectives, emphasizing the need for collaborative efforts to address systemic issues in healthcare, including gender exclusion in medical R&D.


Viagra: Happy Accident. Viagra’s accidental discovery illustrates the gender imbalance in medical research. Led by scientists including Dr. Louis Ignarro, my paternal cousin’s husband, the initial focus was on developing a new high blood pressure medication. However, they unexpectedly discovered its potential to treat erectile dysfunction, a finding made in trials predominantly involving male participants. This male-dominant approach, reflective of a broader trend in medical research, often overlooks women’s health needs and experiences - or assumes them to be the same as men’s. Including women in these initial trials might have led to different or more comprehensive outcomes, understanding the drug’s effects on both sexes.


This example underscores the critical issue of systematic exclusion of women in medical research. It raises questions about potentially missed or skewed medical breakthroughs due to gender inequities in clinical trials. While Viagra’s discovery marked a significant advancement in one area of medicine, it inadvertently highlights the need for more inclusive research practices, ensuring adequate representation and consideration of both men’s and women’s health concerns.


Today, the story of Viagra reminds us of the importance of gender balance in clinical studies, emphasizing the need to move beyond traditional male-only research models. This shift towards more inclusive practices is vital for the accuracy and effectiveness of medical science in serving the entire population.


For further insights into the unethical impact of gender inequality in medical research, “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,” by Caroline Criado Perez offers an in-depth analysis. Additionally, “The Gender Gap in Medical Research: How Exclusion in Clinical Studies Can Harm Health,” from the Harvard Public Health Review, provides a comprehensive examination of the consequences of gender imbalance in medical R&D. “Sex and Gender Differences in Pharmacology,” by Vera Regitz-Zagrosek delves into the differential effects of drugs on men and women. These resources, alongside the principles advocated in the White House initiative, underscore the urgent need for a balanced and collaborative approach in medical research to ensure safe and effective healthcare outcomes for all genders.

Lack of Informed Consent in Women’s Healthcare

Informed consent in healthcare represents more than a legal obligation; it is a moral imperative, especially in the context of women’s health. Historically, the evolution of informed consent has been shaped by ethical guidelines and legal precedents, with significant milestones such as the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki paving the way. In clinical settings, however, the implementation of informed consent has varied, leading to instances where women undergo procedures without fully understanding their nature or implications. This lack of informed consent can result in unexpected pain, complications, and a general distrust in the healthcare system. For example, women often report undergoing procedures like IUD insertions without being adequately informed about the process or potential for significant discomfort or pain. Moreover, there is a gap in ensuring proper follow-up care and addressing complications, which further exacerbates the issue. To improve informed consent practices, healthcare providers must prioritize clear, empathetic communication and patient education. This includes ensuring that patients are aware of all aspects of a procedure, including any potential pain and follow-up care required. Additionally, patient advocacy and legal protections play a crucial role in upholding the standards of informed consent, ensuring that all patients, especially women, are empowered in their healthcare decisions.

Cardiac Care Disparities

In the realm of cardiac care, significant gender-based disparities have been consistently documented, underscoring a critical area of concern in persistent gender bias within healthcare. Numerous studies have brought to light stark differences in the treatment and management of heart disease between men and women. One of the most troubling aspects of this discrepancy is the underutilization of essential diagnostic and therapeutic procedures for women. For instance, women suffering from heart disease are notably less likely to be referred for critical diagnostic tests like angiograms, which are pivotal in assessing the severity of heart conditions.


Moreover, this divergence is not limited to diagnostic procedures. Women are also substantially less likely to receive life-saving interventions such as angioplasty or the insertion of stents. This gender-based gap in treatment extends further to the overall approach and urgency of care provided. Women often face significant delays in receiving care for heart conditions, a delay that can have life-threatening implications. This lag in treatment is partly attributable to the prevalent misperception of heart disease as a primarily male affliction, leading to a lack of prompt recognition and response to heart disease symptoms in women. The impact of these inconsistencies is profound, as timely and appropriate cardiac care is critical for optimal outcomes in heart disease. This gender bias in cardiac care not only compromises the quality of care received by women but also contributes to higher mortality rates among women suffering from heart conditions compared to men.


For further exploration of this issue, “Sex and Gender Differences in Cardiovascular Disease,” by the American Heart Association provides a detailed analysis of the disparities in cardiac care. Additionally, the study, “Gender Differences in the Management and Clinical Outcome of Stable Angina,” in the journal Circulation, offers an in-depth look at the treatment disparities in cardiac care. These resources underscore the urgent need for more gender-sensitive approaches in cardiac healthcare to ensure equitable treatment and outcomes for all patients.

Pain Perception and Management

The inequality in pain perception and management between genders is a significant and well-documented issue in healthcare. Research consistently reveals a concerning trend towards the underestimation and inadequate treatment of pain in women. This autocratic mindset is evident across various medical settings, including emergency departments and post-operative care. Numerous studies have indicated that women are less likely to receive timely and adequate pain medication compared to men. Furthermore, women often experience prolonged waiting times before any pain relief is administered, a delay that can exacerbate suffering and negatively impact recovery.

Gender Bias in Pain Management. The issue of gender discrimination in pain management is not merely based on anecdotal evidence but is substantiated by extensive research. This prejudice manifests in various forms of bigoted treatment towards women in medical environments. For instance, in cases of heart disease, women are less likely than men to receive aggressive, potentially life-saving interventions like angioplasties or stents. Notably, this discrepancy is influenced not just by the severity of the condition but also by deep-rooted preconceived notions that tend to diminish or overlook the seriousness of women’s symptoms.

The underestimation of women’s pain is a reflection of broader systemic issues in healthcare, where gender stereotypes and misconceptions play a significant role in the quality of care provided. The implications of ignoring women’s pain are far-reaching, affecting not only the immediate management of pain but also the long-term health outcomes of female patients.

For further reading on this topic, the article “The Gender Gap in Pain,” published in the journal Pain, offers a detailed examination of how pain is perceived and treated differently based on gender. Additionally, the Fortune article “The gender health gap persists,” provides a contemporary perspective on the ongoing disparities in healthcare experienced by women. These resources highlight the critical need for a more equitable approach to pain management, recognizing and addressing the unique experiences and needs of women in healthcare settings.

Discrimination Against Minority Genders

Addressing gender stereotyping in healthcare necessitates an inclusive approach that encompasses not only cisgender women but also individuals of minority genders, including transgender and non-binary people. These groups confront unique and significant challenges within the healthcare system, marked by layers of discrimination that critically affect their access to and quality of healthcare.


Instances of subjectivity against transgender and non-binary individuals in healthcare settings are well-documented and alarmingly prevalent. Surveys and research studies have repeatedly highlighted scenarios where healthcare professionals exhibit explicit or implicit preconceptions which manifest in various forms, from inadequate provision of care to the outright denial of essential medical services. Such discriminatory practices are not only unethical but also contribute to significant health disparities and worsen health outcomes for these communities.


The discrimination faced by transgender and non-binary individuals often stems from a lack of understanding and awareness among healthcare providers about the specific health needs and challenges of these populations. Additionally, societal stigma and healthcare policies that fail to recognize or adequately accommodate the needs of minority genders exacerbate these challenges. This leads to a healthcare environment where transgender and non-binary individuals are frequently marginalized, underserved, and at risk of receiving substandard care.


For further research and understanding of this issue, the study, “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” provides a comprehensive overview of the discrimination faced by transgender individuals in various aspects of life, including healthcare. Additionally, the article, “Healthcare Disparities Among Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Individuals,” in the American Journal of Public Health offers detailed insights into the specific healthcare challenges faced by these communities. These resources underscore the urgent need for healthcare systems to adopt more inclusive and informed practices that cater to the needs of all genders, ensuring equitable access to quality healthcare for every individual.

Intersectionality in Healthcare

The concept of intersectionality is critical to understanding and addressing gender misconceptions in healthcare. Intersectionality acknowledges that individuals often belong to multiple marginalized groups, and this overlapping of identities can compound the effects of discrimination. Studies focusing on intersectionality in healthcare reveal how gender bias is frequently intertwined with racial, ethnic, or socio-economic prejudices, leading to complex and layered experiences of discrimination.


For example, women of color are particularly affected by these intersecting discriminations. They experience higher rates of maternal mortality and face greater barriers in accessing preventive healthcare services. This unethical disparity is not merely a reflection of gender inequality but also of systemic racial and socio-economic disparities. Such intersectional discrimination results in significant health disparities, indicating that women of color often receive a lower standard of care compared to their white counterparts.


By rigorously examining these empirical realities, we gain a more profound understanding of the pervasive and harmful impact of gender stereotyping in healthcare. This understanding is essential in developing healthcare policies and practices that are truly inclusive and equitable. Recognizing and addressing these ingrained inequalities is a critical step towards ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status, have equal access to high-quality healthcare.


For further reading, “Intersectionality and Health: An Introduction,” in the journal Health Sociology Review provides an insightful overview of how intersectional identities affect health outcomes. Additionally, the report, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” by the Institute of Medicine offers an in-depth analysis of how racial and ethnic disparities intersect with gender prejudice in healthcare. These resources highlight the necessity of an intersectional approach in healthcare policy-making to effectively address and mitigate the compounded effects of multiple forms of discrimination.

Deep-Rooted Gender Discrimination & Its Impact on Patients

The extensive nature of gender discrimination in healthcare has far-reaching and profound impacts on patients, a reality that is starkly illustrated through the experiences of individuals like Henrietta Lacks and Dr. Susan Moore. These cases exemplify not only the presence of gender disparities but also the intersectionality of other forms of discrimination, such as race, which intensify the mistreatment of women in healthcare settings.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks’ story remains a poignant example of the intersection of gender and racial discrimination in healthcare. Diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951, Lacks underwent treatment at the segregated Johns Hopkins Hospital. The treatment, involving radium tube inserts, was a standard but invasive procedure of the time. However, without Lacks’ knowledge or consent, cells from her cervix were removed and used for groundbreaking medical research. Known as HeLa cells, these samples played a crucial role in numerous medical advancements, from polio vaccines to AIDS research.


The ethical violations in Lacks’ case are deeply concerning. Her treatment and the unauthorized use of her cells occurred without informed consent, and her family remained in the dark for decades about her pivotal contributions to science. It was not until 2023 that her family achieved a semblance of justice through a lawsuit settlement against Thermo Fisher Scientific. Lacks’ experience raises critical ethical questions about the treatment and rights of female patients, particularly women of color, within the medical community.

Dr. Susan Moore

The tragic case of Dr. Susan Moore poignantly illustrates the deeply entrenched intersection of gender and racial disparities in healthcare. As a black physician, Dr. Moore was admitted to Indiana University Hospital for COVID-19 treatment, where, despite her medical expertise and self-advocacy, she faced dismissive treatment that she attributed to her gender and race. In a revealing video, she shared her experiences of how her pain and symptoms were minimized by healthcare providers, underscoring the harsh reality that even medical professionals are not immune to systemic discrimination. The hospital’s characterization of her as a “complex patient” is emblematic of a detrimental “blame the victim” mentality, which tragically downplayed her legitimate healthcare concerns. Dr. Moore’s subsequent passing after being discharged from IU Health North serves as a stark and harrowing reminder of the systemic biases that compromise the quality and urgency of care for women of color, an unacceptable reality that persists in today’s healthcare system.

The Permanence of Gender Discrimination. The ongoing issue of gender discrimination in healthcare is multifaceted. Women, including those from transgender and non-binary communities, often face undertreatment, particularly in PM/MC, and their symptoms are frequently dismissed as emotional or psychological rather than physical. This not only constitutes an ethical problem but also a public health crisis. The underestimation of pain, misdiagnosis, and lost treatment opportunities erode trust in healthcare systems and have a ripple effect on healthcare infrastructure and outcomes.


Henrietta Lacks’ story is emblematic of the systemic exploitation and marginalization within healthcare. Her cells, taken without consent and used for extensive medical research, have been invaluable to science. However, this breakthrough came at the cost of her dignity and autonomy. It was not until many decades later that her family received recognition and compensation for the profound impact her cells had on medical science. Lacks’ experience serves as a haunting reminder of the ethical shortcomings in our healthcare system and the necessity of reforming it to ensure respect, dignity, and justice for all patients, irrespective of gender or race.


For further exploration of these issues, the book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot offers a comprehensive look into the life and legacy of Henrietta Lacks. Additionally, the case study, “Misdiagnosed and Dismissed: Dr. Susan Moore’s Experience of Racism and Sexism in Healthcare,” provides critical insights into the systemic biases present in healthcare. These resources underscore the need for a healthcare system that upholds the rights and dignity of all patients, particularly those from marginalized communities.

Personal Stories

The power of personal narratives in highlighting gender discrimination in healthcare is immense, as demonstrated by the numerous accounts shared on social media. These stories, often from women, shed light on the stark disparities in medical treatment and PM/MC experienced when compared to male counterparts.


One woman recounts her experience with childbirth and compares it to her husband’s vasectomy treatment, revealing a significant discrepancy in PM/MC and empathy shown by healthcare professionals:

When I had my first baby, I was very tiny, and the kiddo was a big, bouncing boy. I got snapped at by the first nurse for making a sound. This was long before maternity pain relief was really a thing. We got gas and pethidine/Demerol. Fast forward, my then-husband had his vasectomy done eight weeks after my fourth baby. After 15 hours of labor, I had gas. For the excruciating pain after, I got OTC painkillers. For the raw, cracked bleeding nipples, I was told, “You know how it goes, they’ll toughen up after a couple of weeks (of breastfeeding).” Meanwhile, he was given Valium to take the night before, another one for that morning, and then pain relief for the duration of the five-minute procedure. He was also given a script for afterward and told to go easy for a few days. Are women seen as tough or subhuman?


My husband went to the acute care because he had been uncomfortable and had been experiencing some pressure on his lower right side for a few days. He didn’t even say the word “pain,” and they rushed to get him pain meds. A few months later, I had terrible pain and thought it was another kidney stone. I wouldn’t go to the same acute care because I know how they treat women. But the pain became so bad that my husband finally convinced me. All they did was give me IV fluids and tell me to go home and take ibuprofen. My husband actually said something to the doctor about not treating my pain, and the doctor said he was “offended” by the “accusation.” Healthcare is AWFUL for women!



Another woman shares her frustrating experience with acute care, contrasting the immediate attention and pain medication her husband received with the dismissal and lack of adequate PM/MC she faced for a similar condition. This account highlights the ingrained biases in healthcare settings, where women’s pain is often not taken as seriously as men’s:

My hysteroscopy hurt so badly that they had to call extra people to hold me down on the table. I was screaming for help and ended up kicking my doctor in the face and breaking his nose. It was an accident, of course, but honestly, he deserved it. He was literally torturing me, and all he cared about was completing the procedure at any cost. I bled and was sore for nearly a month. Something was very, very wrong with what he did, but I could never tell you what. I cannot believe they do that procedure without sedation.

- u/[deleted]  

Yet physicians will literally be astounded that a woman expresses pain during a procedure:

I had a cervical biopsy when I was 18, and the doctor was like, “You’ll feel just a pinch.” Then I felt, well, a chunk of my cervix cut out and screamed. He shushed me, so I cried quietly before he looked up and said, “Why are you crying? There are no nerve endings on the cervix. I know you aren’t actually feeling pain.”

That was literally decades ago. I had hoped things had changed for women since then. Good to hear that old asshole doctor is still the norm. Cool. Real cool.


These personal stories are not just individual experiences; they represent a broader pattern of gender discrimination within the healthcare system. They highlight the urgent need for healthcare providers to adopt a more empathetic, equitable, and informed approach to treating patients of all genders. To gain further insight into these issues, “Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick,” by Maya Dusenbery and, “Pain and Prejudice: A Call to Arms for Women and Their Bodies,” by Gabrielle Jackson offer comprehensive analyses of gender inequality in healthcare. These resources delve into the systemic issues that lead to such disparities in treatment and underscore the necessity of reforming healthcare practices to ensure equitable and compassionate care for all patients.

Uniformity in Medical Education: A Case for Standardization

A fundamental area ripe for improvement in healthcare is the standardization and uniformity of medical education, a concept which is essential to elevating the overall quality of healthcare services. The idea is comparable to the training in the military, where all personnel, regardless of branch or specialization, undergo a rigorous, standard foundational training regime. This principle, when applied to medical education, suggests that from the initial stages of pre-medical courses through to general medical studies and specialized training, a uniform and standardized curriculum is imperative.


Currently, the landscape of medical education is characterized by significant and confusing variability. This discrepancy is evident in the choice of textbooks, the range of courses offered, and the diversity in teaching methodologies across different medical schools. Such inconsistency in educational practices have led to notable disparities in the quality and substance of medical training that healthcare professionals receive. A lack of uniformity in medical education results in some practitioners being less prepared to address specific health issues, particularly those relating to gender-specific health concerns and inequitable treatments.


Implementing a uniform educational framework is crucial. It would guarantee that all medical students, irrespective of their institution, receive an all-encompassing and consistent education. This comprehensive approach would cover essential aspects of healthcare, including areas currently overlooked or inadequately addressed in many medical programs, such as gender-specific health issues and the impact of unconscious partiality in patient treatment.


The American Medical Association (AMA), is hypothetically the leading authority in medical education, and has been criticized for its documented inaction in addressing these educational disparities. By championing a standardized approach to medical education, the AMA could play a pivotal role in enhancing the quality of healthcare and mitigating preconceived ideas in treating women. Such standardization would ensure that all medical professionals are equally equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide high-quality, equitable care to a diverse patient population.


For further exploration of this topic, “Achieving a Uniform Curriculum in Medical Education,” in the journal Medical Education discusses the potential benefits and challenges of standardizing medical training. Additionally, “The Social Transformation of American Medicine,” by Paul Starr provides historical insights into the development of medical education and the AMA’s role in this evolution. These resources offer valuable perspectives on the necessity and feasibility of standardizing medical education to improve healthcare outcomes.

Role of Patient Advocacy Groups

Patient advocacy groups play a pivotal role in women’s healthcare, embodying the power of collective action and community engagement. These groups advocate for patient rights, improved healthcare policies, and greater awareness of women’s health issues. They are instrumental in bridging gaps between healthcare providers, policymakers, and patients, especially in areas where women’s health needs are overlooked or marginalized.


These organizations work tirelessly to ensure women’s voices are heard in healthcare decision-making. They focus on a range of issues, from reproductive rights and cancer awareness to mental health and chronic disease management. By providing resources, support networks, and platforms for women to share their experiences, these groups empower women to take an active role in their healthcare.


Advocacy groups also play a critical role in policy development, pushing for legislation that addresses disparities in women’s health and ensures equitable access to healthcare services. They often lead awareness campaigns and educational programs, raising public understanding of women’s health issues.


Furthermore, these groups contribute to research by highlighting areas in need of further investigation and by ensuring that women’s health research is adequately funded and prioritized.


For further reading, “The Influence of Patient Advocacy Groups on Healthcare Policy and Practice,” provides a comprehensive overview of the impact of advocacy groups in shaping health policies. “Empowering Women in Healthcare: The Role of Patient Advocacy Groups,” in the Journal of Women’s Health discusses specific examples of how these groups have transformed women’s healthcare. “Patient Advocacy in the Age of Information,” from the Patient Advocacy Foundation highlights the growing importance of these groups in the digital age. 

Legal and Policy Frameworks

Legal and policy frameworks are fundamental in shaping women’s healthcare. These frameworks determine how healthcare is accessed, delivered, and financed, profoundly impacting the health outcomes of women. Addressing the legal and policy issues discussed throughout this document is critical for creating an equitable and effective healthcare system for women.


Current legal frameworks often fail to adequately protect women’s health rights, leading to disparities in access and quality of care. There is a need for comprehensive policies that address the unique health needs of women, including reproductive health, maternal care, mental health, and prevention and treatment of gender-specific diseases.


Policies promoting gender equality in healthcare research and development are also essential. This includes ensuring that clinical trials and medical studies adequately represent women to provide insights into how diseases and treatments affect them differently.


Furthermore, policy interventions are needed to mitigate the impact of social determinants on women’s health, such as poverty, education, and environmental factors. These interventions could include funding for women’s health programs, improved healthcare coverage, and targeted support for vulnerable populations.


For an in-depth exploration, “Women’s Health Policy,” by the Kaiser Family Foundation offers an overview of current policies affecting women’s health in the United States. “Gender Equality in Healthcare: Legal Frameworks and Global Perspectives,” in the International Journal of Health Governance provides insights into global legal frameworks for gender equality in healthcare. “Social Determinants of Health: The Role of Policy,” by the World Health Organization discusses policy approaches to address social determinants impacting women’s health. 

Proposed Solutions

This proposal outlines a comprehensive strategy to reform healthcare, aligning closely with the initiative’s goal of enhancing women’s health research and development. It advocates for a coordinated approach among various stakeholders, focusing on universal guidelines, collaboration, sensitization, advocacy, and innovative healthcare solutions specifically tailored for women.

Revising Medical Training Programs. Central to this proposal is the transformation of medical training programs. These programs must be revised to eradicate entrenched discrepancies by integrating educational modules that highlight gender differences in healthcare. This includes specialized training on gender prejudices, particularly in women’s health, to ensure future healthcare providers are well-equipped to deliver timely, equitable care.

Transparent Reporting Mechanisms. The implementation of transparent reporting systems is vital. These systems would allow healthcare professionals and patients to report instances of discrimination, fostering an environment of accountability and continuous improvement in healthcare practices, with a particular focus on women’s health issues.

Community Engagement and Public Awareness. Strengthening community engagement through public awareness campaigns and educational initiatives is critical. These efforts should aim to raise awareness about gender bigotry in healthcare, with a special emphasis on women’s health issues, encouraging active community participation in healthcare reform.

Utilizing Advanced Technologies. The use of advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence is recommended for identifying and analyzing gender preconceptions in healthcare. AI can be pivotal in developing and implementing targeted strategies to eliminate biases, particularly in women’s health research, and PM/MC.

Expanding Public Healthcare Options for Women. Enhancing public healthcare systems, such as Medicaid and Medicare, with a focus on women’s health, or moving towards a universal healthcare system, is essential. This expansion will ensure broader access to healthcare services for women, particularly those in financially disadvantaged situations.

Subsidies and Assistance for Women’s Health Insurance. Implementing subsidies and assistance programs for private insurance, particularly for women’s health services, is essential. These programs could be scaled based on income, ensuring that healthcare remains accessible to all women.

Emphasis on Preventative Care for Women. Investing in preventive care with a focus on women’s health can significantly reduce overall healthcare costs. Prioritizing disease prevention specifically for women’s health issues can lower the incidence of serious conditions that are costlier to treat.

Civilian Oversight on Women’s Health Insurance Pricing. Establishing civilian oversight bodies to monitor insurance pricing, especially in women’s health, can ensure greater fairness and accountability, countering corporate and lobbying influences.

Insurance Reform and Price Regulation in Women’s Healthcare Services. Healthcare reform must be comprehensive, extending to encompass significant changes in both insurance policies and pricing structures, with a specific focus on improving women’s health services. This reform should include expanding insurance coverage to comprehensively address women-specific health issues and reducing out-of-pocket costs for women. Ensuring that essential services tailored to women’s health are adequately covered is crucial for advancing equitable healthcare access.


Additionally, the implementation of policies mandating transparent pricing from healthcare providers and insurers is vital. This transparency is essential to address and rectify retail practices that often lead to women being charged more for similar products and services than men. Such trends have unfortunately influenced medical community’s pricing models, contributing to gender-based financial disparities in healthcare.


The regulation of healthcare service costs, especially those related to women’s health, is equally important. Steps must be taken to control prices for medications, medical procedures, and hospital stays that pertain to women’s health, to prevent price exploitation. Such regulation will help ensure that these necessary services are both accessible and affordable for all women. Price regulation is a key step in eliminating the financial barriers that disproportionately affect women, leading to a healthcare system that is equitable and financially fair.


These combined efforts in insurance reform and price regulation are critical in rectifying the longstanding inequities in women’s
healthcare. They pave the way towards a healthcare system that truly caters to the needs of all genders, ensuring equitable treatment, access, and affordability in women’s health services.


For further exploration of these solutions, “Reforming Healthcare: What’s the Evidence?” by Michael Morrisey provides insights into healthcare policy reform. “AI in Healthcare: A Strategic Guide to Artificial Intelligence in Medical Research and Practice,” by Pearl Berman offers a comprehensive view of leveraging AI in healthcare, particularly in women’s health. These resources, alongside the guidelines of the White House initiative, underscore the need for a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to healthcare reform, with a special focus on improving women’s health research and developing innovative healthcare solutions. 

Short-term & Long-term Benefits

This proposal is strategically designed to align with the initiative’s mission of increasing public awareness and enhancing women’s health outcomes through focused research and policy improvements. In the short term, immediate actions are aimed at heightening awareness and bolstering education about gender biases in healthcare. This increased awareness is expected to foster more equitable interactions between healthcare providers and patients, particularly women. It will strengthen patient trust and ensure that women feel more valued and understood in their healthcare experiences. As awareness and education about gender biases in healthcare grow, so does the likelihood of these issues being reported and addressed appropriately. This heightened vigilance serves as a powerful catalyst for immediate and impactful change, leading to more responsive and accountable healthcare practices.


In the long term, these initial steps lay the groundwork for substantial systemic changes in healthcare policy and practice, particularly in areas affecting women’s health. The overarching goal is to establish a healthcare system that offers an equitable distribution of resources, comprehensive and empathetic treatment protocols, and improved health outcomes for all, with a special focus on women’s unique health needs. This future vision of healthcare is one where every patient, irrespective of gender, receives care that is medically sound, respectful, and sensitive to their individual needs and experiences.


Additionally, the long-term benefits extend to broader societal impacts. By ensuring equitable healthcare, particularly in women’s health, we contribute to the overall well-being and productivity of the community. Healthier women can participate more fully in society, leading to economic, social, and familial benefits that extend beyond the immediate healthcare context.


In this envisioned future, healthcare standards will prioritize not only treating illnesses but nurturing a healthcare ecosystem that upholds the dignity, empathy, and equality of every patient, especially women. This holistic approach promises a transformative impact on public health, setting new benchmarks for healthcare excellence and aligning with the initiative’s objectives of enhancing women’s health research and policy development.


For a deeper understanding of the benefits of equitable healthcare and its impact on women, “Health Equity and Social Justice: A Health Improvement Tool,” by the National Association of County and City Health Officials offers valuable insights. Furthermore, “The Ripple Effect: The Impact of Healthcare Inequality,” featured in the Harvard Public Health Review, provides a comprehensive analysis of how healthcare disparities, particularly in women’s health, affect individual and community health outcomes. These resources emphasize the far-reaching impact of implementing equitable healthcare practices and policies, highlighting the importance of both short-term actions and long-term strategies in achieving a more inclusive and effective healthcare system for women. 

Conclusion: The Importance of Gathering Personal Stories

To ensure that the strategies and policies recommended in this proposal resonate with and effectively address the public’s needs, incorporating a wide range of personal experiences and stories is crucial. Aligning with the ethos of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which aims to foster a more inclusive and responsive healthcare system, this approach emphasizes the value of diverse perspectives.


In providing feedback to Dr. Carolyn M. Mazure, Chair of the Initiative, it is essential that the scope of feedback extends beyond the viewpoints of agency heads and policymakers. It must encompass the insights of those most directly impacted by the healthcare system - the patients themselves. Their experiences and narratives are pivotal in painting a complete picture of the current state of healthcare.


To this end, implementing nationwide surveys in hospitals and doctors’ offices is recommended. These surveys, preferably in an essay format rather than multiple choice, would enable patients to anonymously articulate their experiences with gender bias in healthcare in their own words. Such qualitative data can reveal the depth and nuances of the issues faced by patients, offering Dr. Mazure and her team invaluable insights. This approach ensures that the resulting policies and reforms are grounded in the real-world experiences and actual needs of patients, as opposed to being solely based on the perspectives of healthcare administrators and professionals.


Prioritizing patient voices, especially those who have firsthand experience of the system’s shortcomings, is critical. It ensures that the reforms are not only well-informed but also profoundly aligned with the lived realities of those within the healthcare system. A patient-centered approach is indispensable in cultivating a healthcare system that upholds equity, empathy, and effectiveness for individuals of all genders. 

Addendum: Gender Discrimination at the Veterans Administration

As a disabled veteran, I qualify for healthcare through the Veterans Administration and requested Finasteride for menopausal hair loss at the VA’s dermatology clinic in Little Rock last year. The first words out of the young man’s mouth had to do with birth defects. When he realized that he was talking to an elderly woman, he went with the VA’s second irrational
reasoning with the fact that addressing baldness in women is considered cosmetic - yet this same young dermatologist was prescribing Finasteride off label to balding men. This discrepancy in treatment of hair loss in men and women strikingly illustrates the deep-seated gender biases prevalent in healthcare, including within the Federal government itself.


Female pattern hair loss (FPHL), a condition characterized by diffuse hair thinning, affects up to 50% of women in their lifetime, yet the response to this phenomenon in the medical community is ruthlessly dismissive. This flippant approach underscores the double standard in how men’s and women’s health issues are perceived and treated.


This gender bias extends beyond the realm of hair loss, encompassing barriers in communication, empathy in patient care, and bureaucratic challenges families face in ensuring optimal care for their loved ones. Such issues reveal a deeply ingrained medical culture that promotes emotional detachment, originally perceived as a means of preserving objectivity and facilitating rational decision-making. However, though modern healthcare paradigms are gradually recognizing the essential role of empathy, compassion, and effective communication in achieving improved patient satisfaction and health outcomes, this shift is moving so slow as to not be noticeable.


Currently, the only agent approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for hair loss in women is topical minoxidil. Finasteride, which has shown promise in treating FPHL, is often used off-label despite its potential teratogenic effects. The hesitation to prescribe finasteride to women, particularly of childbearing age, due to the risk of teratogenicity in a male fetus, exemplifies the medical community's paternalistic approach to women's healthcare. This caution does not extend to the potential teratogenicity in a female fetus, raising questions about the inconsistencies in these medical standards.


Finasteride has been used off-label for FPHL, showing positive results despite its potential teratogenic effects. It is important to note that finasteride is categorized as pregnancy category X, which signifies its contraindication in women who are or may become pregnant. This is an invalid declaration for exclusion when men undergoing medical trials do not have their sperm tested for fertility and/or birth defect causation. Therefore, it is not for the medical community to restrict women’s access to these medications, and these should be subjected to the same testing protocols as those used for men. The exclusion of women in healthcare on such grounds is inexcusable.


It is imperative to note that women’s hormonal profiles differ considerably from men’s, with higher levels of hormones and a more traumatic transition during menopause. This suggests that dosages of 2.5mg or more of finasteride could be more appropriate for women. Please note that some data suggests dutasteride may be more effective for hair loss in women than both minoxidil and finasteride, which needs further analysis.


Women have the right to equitable healthcare, including access to all medications and treatments available to men, with proper research and dosage considerations reflective of their unique physiological needs. The medical community must move beyond outdated notions and work towards inclusive, informed, and compassionate healthcare for all.


National Library of Medicine

Finasteride and Its Potential for the Treatment of Female Pattern Hair Loss: Evidence to Date

Published: March 2, 2020 

Brenda Hudgens Fritz

Founder, §chool of ℞oe

© 2023