Eliminate the stereotypes about female doctors

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Someone told me that the reason certain others don’t respect my advocacy on behalf of physicians more is simply that I am a woman. I am seeing this the more I speak up on issues facing doctors these days. It is now the 21st century, and there are a large number of women practicing medicine. In fact, the number of men and women entering medical school these days is nearly equal.  Yet, for many, the big boys club mentality still exists. Facing down this and other stereotypes is very important if we want to maintain patients’ trust.

While many may decry the truth stated above, the simple fact is that many women have faced discrimination as physicians. The media is full of statistics of how male doctors earn more than women, as in many other fields, for the same work and position. Yet, whenever I raise this point, I am overwhelmed with a protest that this is not true, exclusively by men of course. In fact, many male physicians say that women do not pull their fair share of work and they often work fewer hours to provide care for children.

While this may be the case, the studies compared men and women at the same position doing the same work. The salary is not the same, even if women are not home baking cookies for their tots and playing super soccer mom. So, is this reduced salary a punishment for time they may have reduced their hours to raise children? And for male doctors, I wonder how many hours they spend with their own children? Work-life balance is important for all genders.

Facing down the stereotypical doctor

If you watch TV shows with doctors or see the doctors interviewed in the media or the celebrity doctors, they are often middle-aged men. Can anyone think of the female equivalent or Dr. Oz of Sanjay Gupta? Sure, these men worked hard to reach their status. Would a women who works as hard be able to reach a similar status? We don’t really know now. do we? It is the 21st century: Doctors now come in all shapes, ages, sizes, colors, nationalities and genders. The big boys’ club no longer rules.

Not all women are home cooking or having babies. Some of us put shoes on our bare feet and go to work every day. Not only do we work, but most of us work hard.  And we do just as much work as men.

If you look at the hospital executive boards, they are mostly filled with men. There are few women CEOs in the health care system. It is the stereotype of women not being business savvy. Yes, we are capable of balancing a checkbook. In fact, many women have very good business skills.

However, they are often not given the opportunity to prove it. As a doctor in private practice, not only do I see patients, I also manage a business. Women can do it. Many vendors come to the office and meet with me only to suggest that I go ask my husband, who is my practice partner. Not once did I ever do business with someone so narrow-minded as to assume I can’t decide to buy a piece of equipment by myself.

The assumption that women work fewer hours is also ludicrous. Between seeing patients, managing a business and practice and doing charts, I estimated the number of hours I work a week to be between 70 and 80. Sure, we may need to slow down when the kids are little. But, we worked hard for our medical degrees, so we are not just throwing them out the window to establish family life. We balance work and life just as much as men. Maybe if men would help out more in the kitchen, they would see how much we really work and try to keep up. However, this is another stereotype: Men are all about work and women about their homes. Both sexes need work-life balance.

And, we do not take a day off every week to play golf. When we are not in the office, it is because we needed a vacation, or we are still working, just not in the office. We may be working in the hospital, attending a conference so we learn more to help our patients, just hiding so we can complete our charts, or attending a mindless hospital meeting that we were forced to attend. I tried golf, and I was really bad.

Today, age-old stereotypes still linger, long past any time they should be allowed to exist. We need to rise up and destroy them. I am a woman doctor, and I have important things to say about the health care system. Ignore me at your own peril.

Linda Girgis is a family physician who blogs at Dr. Linda.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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