What it really means to support your female colleagues in medicine

I always knew there were disparities regarding men and women in the field of medicine. However, at the beginning of my training, these inequalities seemed so fictional to me, I could only compare them to dragons and unicorns. The fact that this topic was only occasionally mentioned seemed to solidify my belief that inequalities between female and male physicians were rare. My mind was solely focused on the various aspects of my education, training, and the road ahead. Regrettably, I was completely unaware of how this topic would affect me.

Only now, in my last year of training, just weeks away from my first job have I realized how deep these discrepancies go, regardless of the skill level, education, and training any one female physician may have. Unfortunately, if you are a woman in medicine, you are less likely to move up the ranks, less likely to be part of institutional or industry research and, this one really pains me, you will probably make less than your male counterparts. At this point, you may be thinking I must have started listening to feminist podcasts and/or recently picked up an inspirational book on amazon for my feelings on this topic to change so drastically. I wish that were the case.

In the United States, one of the most progressive places to live in the world, women as a whole continue to make approximately 20 percent less than men. This fact is supported by the 2017 U.S. Census Bureau data, available to all for free online, which shows that women over the age of 18 working full time have a median income of around $44K while men working full time over the age of 18 make a median income of $55K. Even more eye-opening, if you are a black woman, your median income is $43K compared to Hispanic women who by far make the lowest at a median income of $39K. It only takes a quick dive into some of the research regarding pay inequalities between female and male physicians to see that the above discrepancy in pay exists even in the medical profession.

As a female in the field of pain medicine in which there are only 18 percent women, I admittedly can see the differences between myself as compared to my male colleagues more readily. Sometimes, it’s a boys’ lunch that the girls aren’t invited to and other times it’s at a national conference where panel after panel is men only. Other times, it’s a medical device representative that showers my male colleagues with attention and refers to them as “doctor” but calls me by my first name. Either way it happens, sometimes by just accidental omission, it hurts.

Men, it’s time to stand up for your female colleagues. Invite us to conferences, to speak on panels, or to teach at educational gatherings. We ask for opportunities to advance ourselves all the time; we just need to be given a chance to excel. If you find out you are offered more money at a job as compared to your female co-worker, tell her and give her the opportunity to re-negotiate. Be a mentor and a sponsor to a female physician in your field and help her obtain opportunities in research and/or in industry. How do we stop this from perpetuating? We continue to fight for equality in all aspects of our profession with our male colleagues by our side.

Maricela Schnur is an anesthesiologist.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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