Physicians are tired of being judged based on their gender

It was an average Minnesota fall day. I ran out of the house to do a 3 a.m. vaginal delivery.  I was tired, both mentally and physically.  Medicine has always been such a joyous calling for me.  I probably commit nearly 16 hours a day to my job in one way, shape or form, whether its education, writing, clinic duties.  Everyone has always asked me how I haven’t gotten burned out, and the answer has been that it was never a job.

I, like most doctors, like to be well informed and take in data on a continual basis.  The majority of us spend late nights reading literature to make sure our patients receive evidence-based medicine.  As an OB/GYN, I have always felt particularly responsible for data because I have two patients to care for instead of one.  I always tell my patients that it’s my job to protect the most precious cargo.

Physicians sacrifice a great deal to get through school.  Most of us live in a perpetual state of anxiety, worried about getting into the right college, medical school, residency program, and then landing in a job that will give us the opportunities we crave.

I am part of some amazing physician groups.  Through these groups, I have met some amazing, strong, resilient people who give me energy.  Colleagues help put things in perspective and give me more reasons to fight for cultural changes in medicine.

These women have amazing stories about the gender inequities that they have experienced in medicine.  This is a national issue, and it seems like no specialty or state is immune to the hierarchy, double standards, and misogynistic misinterpretation of how women behave and interact.

Women were still grossly underrepresented in leadership roles in all specialties.  However, in OB/GYN, where we have the highest volume of practicing female physicians, we are further behind other specialties.  Another conclusion you may draw from recent data is that women are often sidelined into roles that don’t translate into leadership.  The amount of female residency directors has increased over the years.  This seems to indicate that women are trying to be more involved, yet, aren’t given the opportunity.

Now, some of my male colleagues will argue that women want to be home more.  They continue to take primary responsibility for the children.  However, if you look at the more recent literature on physician burnout, harassment, lack of representation in leadership, and not being recognized for their contributions, is directly related to women leaving their specialties.

When women attempt cultural change in whatever system they work, often it is met with lip service.  This passivity tends to placate some.  However, it doesn’t solve the problem.  Physicians are met with excuses as to why changes are hard to produce; told to be patient, that it takes time.  There is not a physician I know that shy’s away from hard work; we are willing,  someone just needs to allow us to exist.

After my delivery, I went to the grocery store to get a couple of items.  As I was walking back to my car, in scrubs, hair amiss, tired eyes, wearing my glasses, a man calls to me.  We are walking on the same path, and I choose to ignore him at first.  He gets closer, and I adjust my mask and walking speed.

“Deary deary, where are you headed in that nice car?”

“I’m going to work.”

“Wow, what does your husband do?”

For a moment, I thought about lying to end the conversation.  I almost pulled any number of things out of my head; he plays for the Vikings, he’s a drug dealer, he owns Olive Garden …

“He stays home with our kids.”

“Wow, so how in the world would a lady afford that car.”

“I’m an OB/GYN.”

“That’s so sweet; you’re a nurse.  Who are the doctors you work with?”

“I’m a doctor.”

I realized, at this moment, that I am tired.  I am tired of being judged based on my gender.  I am tired of being the subject of scrutiny for things that a man would never have to acknowledge.  Women don’t want special rights or things handed to them; they want a seat at the table so they can fight alongside everyone else to get the best, safest, newest treatments for our patients.  We want to be acknowledged as hard-working, diligent, and the excellent physicians we are.

My personal hero was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  She fought for what is right until her dying breath. I will leave you with these quotes, which really speak to so many women in medicine.   We put the work in now so that the future is better for everyone.

“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

“Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong, and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions, and gradually over time, their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”
-Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Kellie Lease Stecher is an obstetrician-gynecologist, M Health Fairview Center for Women, Edina and Eden Prairie, MN. She can be reached on LinkedInFacebook, and on Medium @kellie.stecher.

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