If I had a penny for every time somebody asked me to get them pillows or empty out their bedpan, I would be a rich woman. It is not that I find these things beneath me, I would happily fluff my patients’ pillows or clean out their urinal.
What bothers me is the stereotyping that continues to occur still today in 2018. Like that 1950’s doctor image, people still assume that a physician is male and, more often than not, an older male. Unfortunately, it’s not just some patients. It’s society as a whole.
Recently, there was this circulating e-mail that showed a father and his son who were involved in a car accident. The father died and the child was taken to the hospital where the surgeon was unable to perform surgery. The child happened to be their own. The video then asks, “how can this be?” By now, purely based on the topic of discussion, you may have guessed that the surgeon was female and she was the boy’s mother.
I shared this video with my family and much to my disappointment my own daughter asked if the child was adopted! My husband didn’t answer correctly either! Interestingly, the only one that was able to answer was my mother-in-law. Now, I pride myself in teaching my girl gender equality, and she has a mother for a physician for God’s sake! Clearly, societal stereotypes are strong and even more overpowering than my home teachings.
But, alas, medicine is still a male dominated field and there is a large imbalance in leadership positions for women in medicine. According to the American Academy of Medical Sciences (AAMC), in 2015, women made up 39 percent of full-time faculty, 32 percent of people promoted to full professor, and 16 percent of departmental chairs. I have seen this in my own department, where out of 15 divisions no more than two at any given time have been led by a female chief.
To add insult to injury, an article published in Doximity April of 2017 showed that female physicians on average earn 26.5 percent less than men— that is $91,284 less than their male counterparts! I have also unfortunately experienced this first hand in a few different institutions. I learned that the male colleague, with several years less experience than me, were getting paid more. Really?
Many of us have children during training which of course adds yet another demand to an already grueling schedule. Truth be told, the medical establishment has been extremely slow to accommodate our needs so that we can meet both our family and patient related demands. Many women leave medicine at some point in their career because it just becomes too hard to balance both.
It may seem like a hopeless situation, but I have faith things will improve with time. Why? Because we already have signs!
First off, we do it better. No offense to my male colleagues, but a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2017 showed that patients treated by female physicians had slightly better, but statistically significant, lower mortality rates (adjusted mortality rate, 11.07% vs 11.49%) and readmission rates (adjusted readmission rate, 15.02% vs 15.57%) compared with those cared for by male physicians within the same hospital. The authors suggested that female doctors are more likely to adhere to evidence based clinical guidelines and provide more frequent (and longer) preventive care than their male counterparts.
Secondly, we are slowly taking over! For the first time ever, 2017 became the year we had more females in medical schools! Females represented 50.7% of the 21,338 new enrollees in 2017, compared with 49.8% in 2016. Female enrollees increased by 3.2% in 2017, while male enrollees declined by 0.3%. Since 2015, the number of female enrollees has grown by 9.6%, while the number for males has declined by 2.3%.
After every storm, the sun must, sooner or later, come out. The reign of female inequality in medicine is slowly, but surely, reaching its end. As newer generations of women continue to fill our medical school classrooms. Maybe I will get to see a time when the expectation becomes that a woman, not a man, is the physician.