Affiliations: Discipline of Physiotherapy, Trinity College, The University of Dublin, Ireland
Corresponding author: Dr Emer McGowan, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, St. James’s Hospital, Dublin 8, Ireland. E-mail: [email protected].
Note:  Dr Stokes is President of the World Confederation of Physical Therapists.
Abstract: BACKGROUND:Despite some progress in recent years, leadership in healthcare is still dominated by men. While women make up the majority of the health care workforce, the gender percentages of leadership positions remain skewed towards men and many health organisations neglect the issue of gender equality in their leadership. PURPOSE:To explore female healthcare students’ perceptions and experiences of leadership in healthcare. METHOD:A focus group was conducted with a purposive sample of 7 students from a range of health sciences courses (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, pharmacy and dentistry). The focus group data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis. RESULTS:Four major themes were found in the analysis of the focus group data: leader attributes, gender differences, leadership barriers and leadership facilitators. The participants identified three main categories of barriers to women attaining leadership positions in the health system: intrinsic, societal and structural. Modelling, family experiences, leadership training and gender quotas were discussed as potential facilitators of female leadership. CONCLUSIONS:The participants in this study demonstrated awareness of potential issues and challenges that can face female healthcare professionals as they pursue leadership positions. However, to date, the participants had completed very little formal leadership training. Leadership development programmes that incorporate gender diversity issues should be introduced during entry-to-practice degree courses to address issues of implicit bias and try to increase the proportion of women in leadership positions in the healthcare sector.
Keywords: Healthcare leadership, female leadership, gender equality, healthcare students