A monologue in the style of America Ferrera’s character Gloria in the Barbie Movie (original script by Greta Gerwig).
It is literally impossible to be a woman in medicine. You can be at the top of your class in medical school and residency, and yet you will never think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be infallible, but somehow, we’re made to feel it’s never enough. Even when we become attendings.
As a woman in medicine, you have to be assertive but not too aggressive. And you can never say you want to be ambitious. You have to say you want to be successful, but also you have to be humble. You need a nice wardrobe but can’t ask for equal pay because that’s crass.
You have to be a leader, but you can’t be bossy. You have to run the code, but you can’t talk over other people. You’re supposed to find time to be a mother, but don’t expect anyone to cover for you when you take maternity leave. You have to constantly be thinking of your CV, but also always be a team player.
You have to ignore men’s bad behavior, which is ridiculous, but if you point that out, you’re gaslighted. You’re supposed to stay attractive for men but not so attractive that you stand out or that you threaten other women because then the nurses won’t respect you or follow your orders.
You have to never get tired, never be wrong, never brag, never ask for time off, never sleep, never fail, never be late, never be out of childcare. It’s too exhausting! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or a raise.
And it turns out, in fact, that not only does research show patient outcomes are better for women physicians than men, but also you’re still not getting equal pay. To the tune of two million dollars less over the course of a career.
I’m just so tired of watching myself and every other woman in medicine tie herself into knots to reach some impossible standard that doesn’t exist. And still, despite all our hard work, we often won’t be called “Doctor.”
Jennifer Lycette is a novelist, award-winning essayist, rural hematology-oncology physician, wife, and mom. Mid-career, Dr. Lycette discovered the power of narrative medicine on her path back from physician burnout and has been writing ever since. Her essays can be found in The Intima, NEJM, JAMA, and other journals. She can be reached on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Mastodon.
Her books explore the overarching theme of humanism in medicine. Her first novel, The Algorithm Will See You Now (Black Rose Writing Press), a near-future medical thriller, is available now. Her second novel, The Committee Will Kill You Now, a prequel in the form of a near-historical medical suspense, is available in paperback and on Kindle.