Barriers that Women Face to Access Healthcare – A conversation with Sara Byrnell

Hey Live community its Women’s Month! To honor Women’s History Month, we have Sara Byrnell, the VP Philanthrophy of Women’s College Hospital on our LinkedIn Live at 5 to share about different barriers that women face. We believe this conversation is important to bring up to raise awareness about inequality and inequity in healthcare, as well as helping women figure out how we can advocate better care for our long-term health. Health is after all, a very important component of wealth!  


Sara’s main responsibilities include awareness-raising and educating women on the work of women’s hospital college. The hospital was reinvented in 2015 with funding from the federal government into a fresher and newer approach to providing healthcare to women. Women’s College Hospital is the first virtual hospital and the biggest family practice hospital in Ontario. With no physical beds for overnight stays and all in-day surgeries, they advocate access, equity, and keeping people safe and healthy at home. Sara believes that providing healthcare to those that are underserved, who often are women, is crucial for solving underlying issues in society.  


How can a woman tell if she is facing barriers?  

Anxiety, fear, and the feeling of unsafe are the signs to recognize barriers. If a woman experiences anxiety, fear, or negative and unpleasant emotions from past experience or trauma when reaching out for medical help, she could be facing barriers to healthcare.  


What are the common barriers that women face to access healthcare? 

When people hear the word barriers, they often think about physical barriers: a door, a roadblock. In fact, Sara recognizes there are many non-physical barriers that prevent women from getting the treatment they need for their well-being, including:  

  • Geographical barrier 
  • Financial barrier  
  • Language barrier 
  • Education barrier 
  • Cultural barrier 
  • Most importantly, stigma, sexism, ageism, ablism, racism, sexism… and other oppressions women face 


What are the steps women can take to overcome the barriers? 

We need to acknowledge that healthcare inaccessibility is a systemic problem and therefore requires both collective and individual actions to solve. On the individual level, women need to understand they have to lean into their courage and unleash that courage to have a voice. Starting from researching and reading credible sources like Women’s College Hospital, they can have a clear idea of their rights in healthcare to learn more about what questions to ask. Remember, do NOT be afraid to ask WHY. Sara always brings a notebook with questions she wanted to ask with her to a doctor’s appointment. It is your body, you have the right to be informed about what you need to do with it, as well as the right to make decisions on your own body.  

It is also important to pay attention to the environment that you want to receive from. If going to the hospital is intimidating, overwhelming, and sometimes traumatic for you, you can always turn to a community care setting or book virtual appointments for your needs to be taken care of.  

Finally, feel free to bring someone who you trust for support. When you are facing a significant diagnosis, having a second ear in the room is crucial. A person who can take notes and review what was said in the meeting can help you to have access to important details you missed so you can make the best decisions for your health.  


What advice do you give to women who is going through treatment? 

You know your body best. If something feels wrong, trust that. You need to listen to your body and take care of yourself just like you take care of other people. Understanding your body, asking for information and seeking help are critical when making health decisions. Sara also stresses the importance of having a care provider that you trust. You don’t need to settle down with your first choice, keep interviewing people and until you find someone that works best for you, build a good relationship with them.  Also, you can fire your health care provider if you don’t believe they are fit for what you need. 


What are the initiatives that Women’s College Hospital is working on? 

The Women’s College Hospital launched the World’s first Women’s Age lab to keep women more than 65 years old healthy and safe. They are also creating safe spaces for different cultural groups. An example is to perform cultural rituals such as Smudging to allow Indigenous treatment receivers to feel comfortable before surgery. Sara and her team at the Women’s College Hospital are also working with institutions and hospital schools to enhance trauma therapy, increase language translation and participate in anti-bias training to understand better the needs of different patients and serve them better.  


Thank you, Sara for your sharing and contribution to more sustainable and accessible healthcare for all. We wish you all the best on your journey. If you want to support the Women’s College Hospital, feel free to reach out to Sara on her LinkedIn 


Team Jackie Porter is always available to provide you a free 1-1 consultation on how to build your financial confidence. Once you are ready, hit us up at 





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