Using Advocacy, Compassion, and Empathy for Better Outcomes for Women

March 7, 2023

Maria Rodriguez-Castro

Maria Rodriguez-Castro.

Maria Rodriguez-Castro had issues being heard as a woman in the medical community, leading her to become an advocate for others who find themselves struggling to have their voices heard in similar settings. She sees International Women’s Day as a time to consider everyone’s perspectives with empathy and understanding. Maria is a Human Resources (HR) associate and has worked remotely from Maryland for MCD Global Health for a year. She discusses how being open-minded and empathetic to issues that women are facing around the world can help fix many underlying issues:

For most of my life, I have battled some chronic health conditions and found the best medical outcomes when medical professionals have truly heard my concerns and me. For a long time, I was told the fatigue, anxiety, hair loss, and restlessness I felt were just stress-related symptoms despite my pleas to have my symptoms checked out. After nearly two years of this, I switched doctors, and it was then that I was diagnosed with the actual underlying problem: hyperthyroidism. I started treatment and my symptoms have practically vanished; I was finally back to feeling like myself again.

When women are not heard or taken seriously in the medical community, or even by those close to them, the consequences can be harmful or even disastrous, including underdiagnoses, poor prognoses, and a decline in their overall health. Women should be trusted to know their bodies and recognize areas of concerns, the same way the medical community tends to trust men's judgments about their own well-being. To me, equity means listening, weighing the opinions and concerns of all genders about their health equally, and applying an equally comprehensive and fair standard of care.

I felt lucky to only switch doctors once to find one who truly listens and takes me seriously. Other women, particularly those in underrepresented or marginalized groups, are not as lucky, and many do not have support to help them advocate for themselves as I did. When and where I can, I like to accompany female family members to their appointments because I want to advocate for and support them, especially when they feel like their concerns are being dismissed or downplayed — this small contribution of advocacy can save their lives.

Similarly, MCD has helped bring positive impacts to women, such as through its reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health activities, as well as staffing these programs with competent and resourceful women who have first-hand knowledge of the experiences of women in their home countries and communities. Hiring locally and trusting that these individuals can lead and bring about positive changes in their community is empowering. I hope MCD continues to recruit and nourish women's talents and help propel their professional careers in a positive and impactful way.

Over the last few years, I've learned to slow down, go at my own pace, and prioritize my physical and mental health before I embark on new projects. In doing so, I've been able to fully dedicate my attention to these projects without feeling pressured to advance against a self-imposed timer. Unfortunately, many young women feel compelled to do and succeed at everything, despite the political, socioeconomic, and even physical factors in place that create setbacks. As a Hispanic woman in the United States, I always felt pressure, often self-imposed, to showcase that I am more than a stereotype; however, along the way, I realized that it takes greater effort to dispel those myths about not just women, but Hispanic women, which ultimately leads to burnout. Once I took care of my physical and mental well-being, I was in a better position to redirect the same energy into something that works for me.

Finally, I have learned that compassion can go a long way in helping people feel heard and seen. Furthermore, empathy can help us understand how experiences of others are felt and how to address them from their point of view. Ever since then, I have always made an active attempt to understand what others are saying or experiencing, or how something is impacting them from their point of view before I inject my own personal views on a situation.

It takes effort and practice to always be empathetic and compassionate, but I have seen it bring issues to light that may have otherwise remained in the dark. This practice is a constant reminder that because something works for one person, does not mean that it works for everyone, even if they're the same sex or gender. Having this open mindset helps everyone better understand and help each other figure out how to move closer to the most beneficial outcome for all involved.