Optometry Board of Australia - Women in health - breaking the bias on International Women’s Day
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Women in health - breaking the bias on International Women’s Day

08 Mar 2022

On International Women’s Day (IWD), the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and the National Boards celebrate the leadership and work of women across the country in the health professions and healthcare.  

Key points
  • Strong female leadership across Australia’s National Health Practitioner Boards is helping to #breakthebias in healthcare.
  • 10 of the 15 National Board Chairs are women.
  • Across the healthcare workforce women are also changing perceptions including in surgery and leading the delivery of safe care in hospitals.


Women now make up more than two-thirds (64.7%) of our National Boards comprising 99 of 153 appointed members. Ten out of the 15 Board Chairs are women. 

This strong participation rightly reflects the fact that our healthcare workforce is seventy five percent female.

Improving female representation at the executive level still has a way to go, Medical Board committee Chair Christine Gee is the CEO of Toowong Private Hospital in Brisbane and former President of the Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA).

‘I was raised in a family of strong women and men; gender didn’t really feature in opportunities or expectations. I was taught from a very young age that if you wanted something, you needed to work hard and keep at it.  That’s what I have done, and I hope they are the skills and personal ethos I have embedded in my own daughter and son,’ Ms Gee said.

Sixty-five per cent of physiotherapists are female. The profession is proud of the legacy of many strong female leaders, including Patricia (Pat) Cosh who was the first physiotherapist elected Chair of the (then) Masseurs Registration Board in 1975. She drove many changes to the profession including changing the name to the Physiotherapists’ Registration Board.

Physiotherapist Fiona McKinnon is General Manager of Allied Health and Pharmacy at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

‘These leaders were very good at negotiating and very clear on what they wanted to achieve in terms of overall public safety. They ensured that physiotherapy became a vital part of the clinical team.’

‘But we must not rest on our laurels, but build on these strengths, and ensure that our leadership and membership of the National Board and influential bodies reflects the appropriate mix of women,’ she added.

Dr Pecky De Silva is a Vascular and Endovascular surgeon. She’s also on the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Women in Surgery Committee. Despite the mark women are making in surgery, recent NSW surgery training intakes show only 30 per cent of applications are from women.

‘On International Women’s Day I want to celebrate my fellow surgeons and encourage more women to join in. Unfortunately, there remains an underlying bias that men are surgeons and women are the nurturers or caregivers. We can be both skilled and nurturing. A caring and skilled surgeon is the best combo!’ Dr De Silva said.

‘There is no doubt women leadership across health is increasing, to the benefit of everyone. While representation is improving, more can be done. Ahpra and the National Boards are working on increasing representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women on each National Board. We are also developing strategies to increase voices from cultural, LGBTIQA+ and vulnerable communities,’ Ahpra CEO, Martin Fletcher said.

Further information

Contact us

  • Media enquiries: (03) 8708 9200. 
  • Anyone with concerns about the care they have received from a registered health practitioner can make a notification here or by calling  Ahpra on 1300 419 495. 
Page reviewed 8/03/2022