Gender-based support systems influencing female students to pursue a bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery (MBBS) in Rwanda

BMC Med Educ. 2024 Jun 7;24(1):641. doi: 10.1186/s12909-024-05613-w.


Background: While Sub-Saharan Africa contains nearly one third of the global burden of disease, it only contains 3.5% of the healthcare workforce. Furthermore, female medical doctors are underrepresented across the continent. Studies show that increasing gender representation in medicine not only bridges this gap but may have a positive impact on patient care. This study explores the support systems influencing female students to pursue medical school in Rwanda, aiming to recommend ways to increase female participation through support systems.

Methods: This is an exploratory, interpretive study employing qualitative methods. The study was conducted at thirteen secondary schools within two provinces and three universities in Rwanda that offer a medical degree program. Participants were divided into focus groups, including female and male secondary students in science and non-science combinations; teachers of secondary students; female and male students enrolled in medical school; and parents of secondary students in science and non-science combinations. Private and public, mixed and girls-only secondary schools that met the criteria were selected in each province, and all universities offering a medical degree. Participants were selected via random stratified sampling. Thirty-four semi-structured focus group discussions were conducted (28 secondary-level and 6 university-level) and 16 interviews. Data was coded inductively, with common themes identified.

Results: Four main themes were identified as support systems that can either serve as facilitators or barriers to pursuing an MBBS, including teacher support, parental or familial support, financial or institutional policy support, and having access to female mentors or role models.

Conclusion: Social support systems are enablers encouraging female students to join medical school. Integrating social support systems in schools and the community has the potential to increase female applicants to medical school in Rwanda.

Keywords: Gender; Inclusion; Mbbs; Medical education; Support systems.

MeSH terms

  • Career Choice*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Female
  • Focus Groups*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians, Women / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rwanda
  • Students, Medical / psychology