When I was in training, our medical school class was 50% female. I remember looking at our class and feeling just like everyone else on the first day of school. I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb because I was a female medical student. In fact, it was the national trend at the time for most medical school classes to be comprised of about 50% women. “Thank goodness! I belong here,” I thought on my first day. However, that was more of an illusion than a reality when it came to the actual treatment of us female physicians in medical training and practice. This is what the reality was for me (only a couple of years ago):
1. Nurses on the wards often badmouthed assertive female physicians and called them “bitches.” Nurses questioned the competence and judgment of female physicians more often than male physicians. Assertive male physicians were just confident doctors. Assertive female physicians were “bitches.”
2. Other female physicians/other female students often tried to sabotage me. Many women who make it to medical school are fiercely competitive—and even more so with members of their own sex. As much as they try to hide it, many women in the medical field don’t want other women to succeed—plain and simple. We had old exams in med school (that we could study from), and I remember that a close female friend had old exams from 4 consecutive years. When one of my female classmates and I asked her if she had old exams for the Anatomy Unit, she said she never got them and no one has them. We found out from two male friends that they had both received a photocopy of those exams from her on the same day we had asked her for them.
On my Ob/Gyn rotation, I was so excited to have an all women team. It turns out that they were the meanest and most abusive team I have ever had. One night as a medical student, I finished rounding at 8:00 PM. My day started at 5:00 AM and I was exhausted. I was ready to go home until these ruthless female residents told me how wonderful it would be to work up the patient that was coming in from the Emergency Room and would probably be on the floor at 10:00 PM. Furthermore, they thought it would be such a “thrilling experience” for me to do research on the patient’s diagnosis and give a memorized slide presentation for the next day’s lunch conference. OK. See patient at 10 pm, prepare slide presentation, then round at 5:00 AM. That meant zero sleep. I was on call the next night—yet another night with zero sleep! This trend persisted for the entire rotation and I still ended up with a lukewarm evaluation from the female physicians. The last week of my rotation, I rotated with a predominantly male team. I got more than seven hours of sleep every night and outstanding recommendations (spectacular recommendations in fact) across the board from them.
3. Some of my male mentors or superiors were interested in “extra perks.” Failure to comply limited important career opportunities and recommendations. I did research with a male advisor and my paper got published and accepted to be presented at a big national meeting. He called me and told me that he had already made arrangements to go to the meeting with me and how much fun it would be to go swimming and dancing together. He mentioned that he would arrange for the hotel room for me—suggested that “we could share to save on costs.” I never called him back. I never presented my research. As a result, I was never able to get a recommendation from him which would have really boosted my career as he is world renowned in his field.
4. As a female physician, I got paid less for the same amount of work as my male colleagues. On several occasions, I had concrete evidence that I got charged higher rent, higher overhead, or got paid hundreds of dollars less on a per diem basis than a man doing the same exact job for the same exact hours (and in many cases the men were FAR less productive than me or far more junior to me). When contesting these gross inequalities, there was absolutely no legitimate explanation. According to the American Medical Women’s Association, AMWA, this pay gap between female and male physicians is a known fact and is actually getting worse not better.
5. Male physicians got the same jobs I applied for who were much less qualified and had far less experience
6. I was heavily discriminated against when pregnant. The chief of my division asked me why I didn’t take call for one week during my pregnancy. I had premature contractions, had a doctor’s note, and I got a qualified physician to cover me and he still to this day complains about the fact that I didn’t take call for one call period (approximately 4 nights) and how he could take administrative action against me for that if I ever missed another call. Are you kidding?
7. The majority of my close friends who are successful female physicians are not married, are divorced, or do not have the rewards of a family. Success as a female physician may make it much harder to have a successful marriage or raise a family.
Sorry to burst your bubble ladies, but it is an extraordinarily challenging task to become a medical doctor and then to land a fulfilling job. As a female, multiply that difficulty by 100. Discrimination against female physicians is still rampant—yes in the 21st century! If you don’t have the energy to fight it in court, please recognize it, and at least educate others about it.
However, don’t forget that sometimes, when the road is tougher, the rewards become even sweeter.
Amy Mills MD