Recently, a male physician made public a common, inaccurate, and appalling opinion: Women are paid less, because they don’t want to work hard.
The comment, in the September issue of the Dallas Medical Journal, asserts that women are paid less, because they see fewer patients. This is because women physicians “choose to or they simply don’t want to be rushed.” He writes that “most of the time, their priority is something else … family, social, whatever.”
Removing my subjective revulsion to the comments momentarily, they are plainly and objectively wrong. Women physicians are truly paid less than male counterparts, corrected for things like productivity and experience. This truth continues to be published in study after study (many of which were outlined in the Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this year. So, how does this inaccurate belief persist?
The comments speak to a basic misogynistic belief that women care more for and should be responsible for household and social duties. Should it be assumed that because I am a mother, I choose to work less and bake cupcakes for the PTA? Why is this same assumption not made for fathers in medicine? Frankly, you would be much more impressed with my skill in joint injection than you would be with my baking. My stay-at-home husband makes a delicious batch of cookies, though. Ask any woman in medicine, and she will tell you that she has heard comments like this before. With this seemingly unflappable belief, what real choice do women have but to do the lion’s share of unpaid work?
Should research, common sense, and self-reflection not be enough to shake your opinion in this matter, I invite you to visit me at my practice in Richmond, VA. when you do, you will observe a dedicated, hard working physician. You will find that I am the sole breadwinner for my family of five and that I work as fast, as hard, and as long as any of my male colleagues (who, as a side, are wonderful). You will meet my many talented female colleagues and mentors who are leaders in my institution and in their field. They work harder and longer than I do. You will find that anything you can do, we can do in high heels while hooked up to a breast pump. I extend this offer honestly and with hope that you may seek to understand the profound offense comments like these offer to women in our profession.
As with most stagnant opinions, they are unlikely to change without a direct challenge. May I humbly recommend that anyone still in disagreement have their salary reduced to the lowest paid female physician in their practice. Would a 20 percent pay cut be enough to raise you from your seat? What if in addition to this pay cut, you also had to bear children, provide them exclusive breast milk for a year, handle the household budget, chores, shopping, cooking, and conjure responses to questions such as, “Why are you just a part-time daddy and not a full-time daddy like all the other dads in the neighborhood?” If this should prove to be too much for you to handle, you may choose to leave medicine, and that would be fine. I would loathe to call a person with such noxious opinions a colleague for a minute longer.
Megan S. Lemay is an internal medicine physician.
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