Malaysia’s First Women Ophthalmology Forum Commemorates International Women’s Day, Spotlighting Women’s Inclusion, Empowerment, and Innovation in Healthcare
March 7, 2021 ArifAzhar

Malaysia’s ophthalmology community kicked off celebrations for International Women’s Day early with the inaugural Malaysia Women Ophthalmology Forum, Empowering Visions. In line with the 2024 theme of International Women’s Day Inspiring Inclusion, the forum, organised by Roche Malaysia Sdn Bhd, the Malaysian branch of the global multinational healthcare company, centred on women and their contributions in healthcare — specifically, within the field of ophthalmology. 

Recent studies reveal that while inching towards gender parity, the increase in the proportion of females in ophthalmology had not translated to an increase in female representation in leadership positions. Instead, globally, women make up only 25%-30% of ophthalmologists, with an even lower representation in leadership roles and surgical sub-specialisations. 

Moderated by Freda Liu of The Shift Asia, the forum panellists include Datuk Dr. Nor Fariza binti Ngah, Deputy Director of Health, Research & Technical Support, from the Malaysian Ministry of Health, Dr. Tara Mary George from Sunway Medical Centre, and Dr. Shamala Retnasabapathy of Hospital Sungai Buloh, with opening remarks by Choong Mei Chen, Ophthalmology Country Disease Area Lead for Roche Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia.

Topics for discussion covered a multitude of areas, including breaking barriers, overcoming stereotypes, patient care, the importance of interpersonal skills, the significance of continuous education as well as the professional development of women in the medical profession. 

Opening the field was Datuk Dr. Nor Fariza, who noted how women offered a unique perspective in medicine; She highlighted, “Women bring a distinct perspective that enriches the profession and elevates patient care. In a domain where empathy, communication, and meticulousness reign supreme, women’s inherent strengths make them indispensable contributors. Moreover, diverse representation ensures healthcare systems are attuned to the varied needs of patients, including those specific to women. By championing and empowering women in ophthalmology and healthcare at large, we not only advance gender equality but also enhance the caliber and efficacy of healthcare provision for all.”

This was echoed by Dr. Tara, as she discussed the importance of women in medicine from the angle of patient care and interpersonal relationships; “In ophthalmology, where patients often face concerns about their vision and well-being, it is the compassionate approach commonly associated with us women which can significantly enhance patient care. Through empathetic communication and understanding, we can alleviate fears, clarify treatment plans, address patient concerns with as much sensitivity and understanding as possible, and cultivate a supportive environment where patients feel valued and heard.” 

Both points were supported by Dr. Shamala, who added “, the supportive role of family is pivotal in achieving work-life balance, contributing to the empowerment of women in their professional endeavors. What cannot be neglected is continuous education and professional development, including staying abreast of the latest advancements in ophthalmology. This is another way of showcasing our commitment to providing the highest standard of care to their patients while contributing to the advancement of the field as a whole — and how we  pave the way for greater inclusivity, diversity, and progress within the profession.” 

“As a leader and a woman in the field of ophthalmology, I am driven by the vision of creating an inclusive environment where women can truly flourish, contributing their unique perspectives,” said Choong Mei Chen. “Initiatives such as the Women in Ophthalmology Forum underscore our unwavering commitment to championing diversity and inclusion. These initiatives send a resounding message of support and empowerment. Together, let us boldly challenge the status quo, dismantle barriers, and pave the way for a future where every individual, regardless of gender, enjoys equal opportunities to excel.”

All specialists reiterated the monumental contributions of women within the field, despite enduring persistent resistance. They underscored the criticality of magnifying women’s voices in healthcare, nurturing an environment conducive to collaboration, camaraderie, and reciprocal trust and comprehension.

As the world commemorates International Women’s Day, the inaugural forum of the Empowering Vision series stands as a beacon heralding a future of progress and inclusivity in healthcare. By championing the inclusion of women in our field, Roche works to forge a path towards a more equitable and respectful world, where every individual, regardless of gender, is afforded equal opportunities and respect.