“Aren’t you cute,” he said as he smiled and squeezed her cheeks. On the start of a new rotation, a medical student walked into clinic and introduced herself to the attending physician.
With all of the news surrounding the Weinstein debacle, Alyssa Milano has urged women to share their stories of sexual harassment or abuse using the words “me too.” What has transpired is that a whole community of women from many different backgrounds and social stratas have spoken out about their own personal experiences with inappropriate sexual advances.
While the field of medicine continues to produce a growing number of female doctors, patriarchal attitudes of the past, unfortunately, remain all too pervasive. If it was only enduring the sexual advances made by individuals, we came in contact with through our personal lives, that would still be an unnecessary burden. But, it is not just in our personal lives, it is not even just at the hands of some of our patients, it is actually at times from our male supervisors, co-workers, and team members.
The story above is true, and I know I wasn’t the only female medical student at that time who experienced the unsolicited touching. Every day for the entirety of the rotation I said nothing as the attending physician would greet me by squeezing my cheeks. I convinced myself that it is just a quirk that is intended to be endearing. I don’t want to insult him by saying I’d rather him not squeeze my cheeks. And after all, if I said nothing then probably I would receive a better evaluation than if I did speak up. Even after I finished the rotation, this is the way he would greet me as we passed each other in the hallway.
Now, maybe you are thinking that really isn’t that bad. Truly, that is what I thought until these experiences continued. I had a clinical supervisor who took advantage of his position and tried to kiss me. There were others who proceeded to massage my shoulders while I typed my progress notes. Worse yet, in a multiple hour hernia repair surgery, I was told that since I am the only female in the room that it is my job to hold the patient’s testicles throughout the entirety of the procedure.
I’m sure my own experiences are far from the many worse experiences that many of my colleagues and fellow women physicians have had to endure. It is hard to speak up, and I can’t say that I took an active part in shining a light and changing the system while the events were occurring. However, in our medical field, these behaviors should not be accepted. They should not be tolerated. They should not be swept under the rug.
Whether you choose to come forward using your name or whether you post anonymously, I want to encourage and support all of the other women doctors and health care providers in sharing their experiences, using the hashtag “#MeToo.” It is never too late to share your story.
So women doctors, speak up! Because I am not the only #MeToo.
The author is an anonymous physician.
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