Sex and Gender Health Collaborative
By Lara Rostomian
Did you know that 80% of the drugs withdrawn from the market are due to side effects on women? Or that women are susceptible to potentially lethal arrhythmias when they take some of the very same medications that stabilize rhythm in men? Or that the signs and symptoms of a heart attack look different in men and women? These examples just barely scratch the surface of the many sex- and gender-based differences in medical practice. Each of us is assigned a sex at birth, and we develop a gender identity throughout our lives — both of these aspects affect our health and the efficacy of the medical treatments we receive.
The male model has become our framework for medical research, and as a result many treatment plans, drug dosage guidelines, and diagnostic exams are less effective when used by or on women. Somewhere down the line, women’s health became synonymous with reproductive health, but to ensure quality care for women, we need to broaden our approach to clinical care and account for all the differences between males and females – not just those related to sexual and reproductive health.
One of the most prominent examples of differences in sex and gender in medicine is evidenced by examining the cardiovascular system. Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women, but more women die within the first year of having a heart attack than men — why is that? Men and women have completely different heart attack experiences. Men will often complain of crushing chest pain or “an elephant sitting on their chest,” but women often complain of nausea, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, pain in the upper back or jaw, indigestion; and their symptoms may not necessarily always include chest pain. Since we’ve used the male body as our medical model for “typical” behavior, many women’s heart attacks go undiagnosed and ignored, ultimately costing lives.
In order to fully meet an individual’s healthcare needs, we need to ensure that sex and gender are integrated into research, health profession education, and clinical practice. The Sex and Gender Health Collaborative (SGHC) was established to advocate for inclusion of a sex and gender lens into the training of medical and health professionals. We do this by
gathering evidence-based sex and gender educational resources; increasing awareness that sex and gender matters for individuals; clinical outcomes; and in health systems, by promoting sex- and gender-related collaborations among diverse groups. The Sex and Gender Health Collaborative has a variety of initiatives that you can get involved in starting at the premedical level! You can learn more about what we do and educate yourself using various sex- and gender-based medical training materials found on our website, and you can fill out our membership form to join our committee today!