The worst of our peers now represent us to the public. Today, whether they are the subject of legal action after their abuse of women is revealed, or dragged into the spotlight through the courage of the patients they assaulted, male gynecologists are becoming notorious in American medicine.
While the history of our profession is rife with examples of male gynecologists building their clinical knowledge on the suffering of women, by now, we should have learned from their discoveries and discarded their modes of behavior.
We cannot allow our patients’ perceptions of us to be shaped by these figures, and so must strive to reassert ourselves as the caring, thoughtful, selfless practitioners of medicine I know us to be. It is no longer enough to provide the best medical care; we must be vocal advocates for women. We must count anything less than our emphatic support of each and every patient, and woman, a failure.
As we demand more for our patients, we must not forget to pause in order to take from them the lessons they can and wish to impart.
As a white male, I understand that I work in a system that was built for me and that this system is the wellspring that sustains the worst among us. We can never hope to heal our patients, to lift them up, until we relinquish the false confidence in ourselves that this system engenders and open ourselves to learn not only from the women we have chosen to serve but those who serve alongside us.
Female physicians currently make up the majority of providers in our specialty, yet male gynecologists continue to hold a disproportionate number of leadership roles. We must use these roles to promote our female peers. I have had the privilege of learning from some of the most impressive women in our field and am certain I have become a better physician and person for knowing them.
By welcoming women to the leadership positions that we have historically monopolized I am certain that not only will our patients benefit, but so will we.
What I ask of my male colleagues may appear challenging at first, but we need not be daunted by this undertaking. To be vocal in your respect for women means as much, if not more, in an exam room as it does at a society meeting, or on a national stage.
The act of learning, both from our patients and from our female colleagues, should come naturally to those who work in a world built on academic study and scientific method. And should my fellow male gynecologists find it difficult to relinquish their seats at the table of our leadership, I implore you to at least offer up the seat next to yours.
Only through action, on behalf of our patients and female peers, can we take ownership of how we are represented and earn back the public’s confidence. The exposure of our colleagues’ transgressions has highlighted a long-overdue need to reform the system we work in. We have the power to effect this transformation, and I believe we have the will.
John Davitt is an obstetrics-gynecology physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com