SANTIAGO – At the age of 31, Dr. Izkia Siches became the first woman to serve as president of the Chilean Medical Association (Colmed), but after two years on the job, the physician is debating whether to seek re-election, with maternity playing a role in her decision.
“I can choose if I want to run or not ... Deep down I would be defying the system, which has never had a mother as a leader,” Siches said in an interview with EFE.
The physician, who was born in 1986 and is an infectious diseases specialist, started her career breaking social barriers in medical institutions when she became the first female president of the Santiago metropolitan area medical association at the age of 28.
“When I decided to run in the association’s national election, there was a debate about whether it was a risk or not to have a young woman as a candidate,” Siches said, adding that she found an “environment of machismo” when she entered the organization, since there were no “female doctors in leadership posts or considered for positions.”
Siches won and became the president of the Chilean Medical Association, focusing her agenda on sensitive issues, such as “gender, harassment, migration, inequality in access to care and strengthening the public (healthcare) system.”
The doctor works 22 hours a week at a public hospital, treating patients with HIV, and dedicates the rest of the time to her duties at the association.
“This allows me to stay connected with the real world of medicine, patients and the public. This way, colleagues can tell me anything,” Siches said.
Siches said she knows what maternity is like for female doctors, who spend most of their most fertile years studying, since it takes 10 to 12 years to become a medical doctor in Chile.
“Maternity leave has a negative connotation, despite the laws that exist for breastfeeding, financial benefits and nurseries. Female doctors try to keep up with their male colleagues, which is why most of them decide to not accept the benefits,” Siches said.
“Many of them reduce their work hours, but there are others who choose to work a normal schedule, ideally from eight in the morning to five in the afternoon,” said Siches, who wants to promote work-life balance among doctors.
The Colmed president tries to lead by example, working a set schedule to show that it is “possible for any man or woman to run an institution without mortgaging their lives.”
Siches, who labels herself “left-wing” and was in the youth group of the communist party while at university, said she was focused on “the social viewpoint of medicine, which goes beyond the left and right axis.”
In 2020, her term as Colmed president will come to an end and she will have to decide at 33 if she wants to defy the system and run for re-election as a mother or walk away.