This is a very controversial essay, but I am going to express how some women physicians, like myself, feel at the VA hospital.
I came home one day after my clinic and was perturbed. I called my significant other and the emotion of the day unraveled. I was reporting an uncomfortable interaction I had with an older male patient. During this patient encounter, his tone and comments became sexually charged and suggestive. In the residency clinic, we report to an attending physician. After my encounter earlier that day, I blurted out that I was feeling uneasy to my attending. His quick response was, “You are an attractive resident, you can expect to get hit on by your patients.”
I paused in disbelief. I am expected to work in a sexually charged environment without much support. All of the feelings of the day and my lack of support was articulated to my significant other. He was sympathetic to my plight; however none of us had a solution.
This was not the only time I felt this way throughout the year. I found that I am not the only female resident physician who has dealt with this issue. I voiced my concerns to fellow, more senior, residents and they had uncomfortable encounters of their own. One resident told me about a patient who asks her to squeeze his prostate. He asks her to perform this task, not for health related concerns. He asks her so that he can have an erection. Overhearing our conversation, another resident piped in while shaking her head with a burden she bears. She explained her misogynistic experience. She takes care of a patient who asks her if he can squeeze her breasts. She reported this to her attending, and although there was sympathy, she continues to see this patient in her clinic. She must work alone, with the door closed, in her clinic room: bracing herself every time the patient arrives.
I take no pride in speaking about our veterans in this light. My brother is a judge advocate general and is a major in the Marines. I have full respect and am humbled by how they protect our country. I am by no means detracting from that. Most of the patients are very kind and respectful.
I am speaking about those that do not respect their female physicians. We are working hard to take care of current and former military men and women. We don’t deserve to be gawked at as we walk through the entrance of the hospital. We should not have to endure unprofessional and misogynistic comments in clinic. There should be monitoring for our protection. There should be more support from the medical community and teaching to patients.
If this essay offends people, then they know how we feel.
“Dr. Mary” is an internal medicine resident who blogs at Diverse Medicine.
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