Home » Women in intensive care: story of the ‘queen of Etna’ and how a Hub for gender equality was born

Women in intensive care: story of the ‘queen of Etna’ and how a Hub for gender equality was born

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They called her the ‘queen of Etna’ because last year she climbed the volcano by bicycle covering 190 km with 7000 m of altitude difference covered in 14 hours. Francesca Rubulotta, director of the Intensive Care Unit at McGill University in Montreal in Canada, began at 3 am and finished her fatigue at 5.23 pm.

A very specific goal in mind: to raise funds to support the ‘I win’ Foundation, an international network designed to improve the conditions of access and permanence of women in an important medical sector: that of intensive care.

True Sicilian, but recruited in London where she worked for 15 years at Imperial College, Francesca Rubulotta is about to move to Montreal to become a professor and head of department. At Salute.eu she talks about her dream as a woman of intensive care, the objectives of the ‘I win’ network whose Foundation is inaugurated in these days in Catania and then the next challenges that await her so far from her homeland.

The gender gap

In 2019, in Western countries, the women enrolled in the faculty of medicine and surgery were about 70-80% but only 40% in the specialization in anesthesia. In countries where anesthesia represents a separate discipline from resuscitation, the percentage of women who choose to work in intensive care is close to 30% of the total annual enrollment. In 2017, less than 10% of women authors of scientific articles, editors of scientific journals, executives of pharmaceutical or biotechnology companies, editors of guidelines and recommendations in the field of anesthesia and resuscitation were less than 10% and at some international conferences the number of speakers was less than 5%.

These numbers are even lower among ethnic minority women. “This means – underlines Rubulotta – that the working methods are dictated by committees mainly made up of men, compared to bedside care provided by doctors or nurses who are mainly women. Not only that: biotechnology, designed for 68% by male engineers, 70% of it is used by young female nurses and doctors working at the bedside “.

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Women’s teamwork

Starting from these data, the idea of ​​I Win was born, which stands for International Women in Intensive and Critical Care Network. “Our values ​​- says the doctor – are based on the concepts of innovation, collaboration with industries, biotechnology start-ups, Information Technology companies that promote training internationally and in developing areas. And then we believe in diversity. and in equality not only in the workplace but also in research “.

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The network also strongly believes in the need for mutual support and teamwork, which is not always easy for women. The first webinar took place last year under the patronage of the World Federation of Intensive Care, the Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, Spanish and Italian Anesthesia and Resuscitation Society.

From the top of Etna to that of medicine

How did the idea of ​​climbing Mount Etna come about and what does it have to do with the I Win project? “The moment they described to me the path to take to win the title of Queen of Etna, I understood that I would take this title”, says euphoric Rubulotta. “For me it was immediate to make the association between the mountain, ‘Signora Etna’ and my project. The beauty and complexity of the mountain lady resembled me and almost symbolized the woman in the world of work. For this reason I decided to make this climb to raise funds for the I Win foundation. “

The ‘Queen of Etna’ patent requires a commitment of 12-18 hours and starting the journey at night you risk encountering packs of stray dogs or adverse weather conditions. “I came back from London on purpose and I prepared myself in a very precise and disciplined way for 10 days”, continues the anesthetist.

11h and 55 ‘on the pedals

Rubulotta has always played sports even at a professional level: several years in Serie A with water polo and 4 more World Championships won with the Masters, but she had never ridden a bike. His father, on the other hand, did. “I started pedaling and found my dad’s bike, also a resuscitator who died at 49 from work stress. I found his old Colnago that he never managed to use,” he says.

Thus, on two wheels, he discovered a new face of Sicily. “The bicycle quickly became a drug. The endorphins at the end of the ride made me happy and Sicily seemed more beautiful every day. In September I was improving day by day, so when they told me about the Etna park patents I decided to attend”. On the morning of October 10th, Francesca Rubulotta left home at 1:30 am and started pedaling at 3:04 am. “It was like a dream: the moon was one step away, the stars could be touched with one hand, there was no wind. Then the sunrise over the sea. And then the strong morning sun, my friends and the colors of the my homeland: an unforgettable day. In short, I’m here in London and I think I lived a dream “, he says.

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The Covid emergency in London in resuscitation

A dream that has become a nightmare in the midst of the Covid emergency in London. “I experienced so many different sensations: fear, confusion, isolation, hope. I identified the first Covid patient at Charing Cross Hospital in London on March 9, 2020. All family members were positive and two of my interns fell ill. The tests were not available and I have not been tested thinking I was sick for weeks I continued to work “.

The lockdown in England was proclaimed on March 23, so very late: “The subway was full of people without masks and the gyms and restaurants were open”, recalls the doctor who was also the first candidate for president of the European Intensive Care Society. .

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The first to prescribe cortisone

In the meantime, the mother in Italy got sick: “I couldn’t go back and I was so scared, but now my mother is fine”, she says happily but adds: “In April my nurses were crying in the ward and we all had the signs of the masks. on my face. I was confused but I had to look confident in my choices. I was the first to use cortisone on a sick man, a young taxi driver who got sick while taking Chinese entrepreneurs from London to Birmingham. He was saved and months later the cortisone it became a standard of therapy. Colleagues from all over the world called me and we exchanged advice. “

The inauguration of I Win in Catania

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as Sars and Ebola have made the work of resuscitators who face enormous sacrifices better known every day. But what impact does this career have on the lives of women doctors and nurses who decide to work on the front line? And here we are back to the sense of the network created by Rubulotta. The signing of the statute and the establishment of the I Win Foundation takes place today at the inauguration which takes place in Catania.

The inaugural event on 25-26 June takes place online at www.iwinideal.com and includes study groups and technical tables, made up of small selected teams, for the elaboration of simple and feasible projects. The scientific committee, which gathers representatives from over 20 countries around the world, will work on various topics related to women’s leadership, innovation and research. The summary document of the Congress will then be proposed to scientific journals for publication.

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Catania-London-Montreal: what’s around the corner

After fifteen years at Imperial College London, Rubulotta now moves to Montreal. Another Italian talent who migrated abroad, however, the headquarters of I win is Catania: are the roots not forgotten? “We must change to advance, but never forget the origins and obstacles because we learn from them and grow with them. I am a woman from the south and here I have to create the foundation because from here we must start talking about equal opportunities, both for women than for the south. Sicily is also in the center of the Mediterranean and close to many developing countries for which equality and equal opportunities are of great importance “.

With Italy in my heart

After the cancellation of eight airline tickets, the anesthetist drove alone to Catania in June. Will you return to Italy sooner or later to work here? “Maybe! Meanwhile, I Win will keep me in Italy every year with an annual event”, this volcanic woman who has never married but wanted to become a mother tells me with an overwhelming smile: “I have always tried desperately to have children, but I have not succeeded. Many career women who delay pregnancy then fail to have children and the world behind artificial reproduction is a business that represents a pain for many. It is a topic I will talk about in future conferences. “

Family birthdays and new heights

Meanwhile, at the end of the congress, Rubulotta is preparing to celebrate her birthday which falls on June 30 and then later that of her grandmother who will turn 100 years old. “Before Covid I traveled every 15 days: I taught in India, the Middle East, Africa, but since I had to stop flying because of the pandemic, staying at home feels like a vacation to me,” he says. After having climbed Mount Etna, do you have other sporting feats in mind? “Of course, taking the title of Empress of Etna which includes seven climbs and over 8000 m in altitude: how to overcome Everest!”, She concludes with her inevitable smile.


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