Why being a female physician matters

A recent publication in JAMA Internal Medicine clearly demonstrated that female physicians were able to provide better care when compared with their male counterparts. Researchers from Harvard University studied the relationship between physician sex and 30-day mortality and readmission rates of over 1.5 million Medicare patients between the year of 2011 and 2014. What they discovered was that female physicians had lower mortality and readmission rates when compared to male physicians. Prior studies have pointed towards strategies such as patient-centered approach, more encouraging and reassuring styles of care, and longer time spent with the patient may have lead to the superiority in results.

Being a female physician myself, this study certainly resonated with me. Despite clear evidence towards excellent patient care, I have personally faced discrimination based on my gender; for example, there have been ample instances where my patients have assumed I was their nurse rather than the physician. Additionally, I have had to think twice about my career choices since I do want to be married and have a family in the future.

And I have first-handedly witnessed stories of other female physicians who had to curb their careers in order to assume the more traditional role of caregivers at home. Almost one-half of first-year medical students are females, and subspecialties such as obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics have majority female physicians.

However, in various subspecialties women are still the minority, for instance currently only 22 percent of physicians training to be cardiologists comprise of females. This begs the question of what can be done to allow women to traverse medical fields less travelled in order to provide exceptional care to all kinds of patients.

I believe we have reached a time where women can make the decision to decline the roles traditionally played primarily by females. I also believe it’s time that our partners and husbands start fully sharing the responsibility that has traditionally fallen on a woman’s shoulders. We should ask of our partners what they assume they will get from us, because a woman should no longer have to blunt her career based on life-work balance. Furthermore, our male colleagues should be our advocates and support us in challenges we face at work such as gender-bias, pay-equality, and equal opportunity for employment and advancement.

It is time we start paying attention to data that evidently points towards female physicians providing exceptional care for their patients. Despite gender differences, further research needs to be implemented to ascertain what qualities account for better patient care and outcomes. However, this can not be achieved without a movement towards equality between female and male physicians. Superior patient care can only be accomplished by giving female and male physicians an equal platform to stand upon and opportunities to grow from. I truly believe it is time we bridge this gender gap; we stop assuming the traditional role of a woman; and we ask for impartiality in every facet of our careers and lives.

Supreeya Swarup is a cardiology fellow.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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