Q&A: A Discussion of Sexism in Medicine

Now as an attending, I don’t know anyone who would be bold enough anymore to say such things around me. But I still get patients thinking I am their nurse. 

And many patients call me by my first name instead of addressing me as Dr Barney. I have no idea where this comes from, but it’s very disturbing. It makes me feel stripped of my title, nor do I know any male physicians to whom this happens. One more example: Every single time I go to the store, café, or anywhere in my scrubs, I am asked if I am a nurse. I would love just once to be asked if I am a doctor getting on or off a shift. Just once!

Dr Cooper: How are female physicians and female physicians-in-training affected by this sexism? That is, on a personal, professional, and emotional level?

Dr Barney: These experiences drive women to constantly feel the need to prove ourselves. It is disheartening after enduring our extensive training to not be accepted as “doctor.” It is sad for me to still be fighting this battle.

I’ve also heard and read story after story of women being paid less, being promoted less often, and being passed over for jobs. I have not experienced it personally, but I have no doubt that it occurs.

But perhaps the most upsetting part is the denial by both men and women of the existence of sexism. If we can’t acknowledge it, then we will never make any progress toward overcoming it.

Dr Cooper: Would you say that sexism in medicine today is as blatant or pervasive as it once was?

Dr Barney: I wholeheartedly admit that modern sexism is now more subtle. We are not being beaten or denied the chance to get into medical school. And most of the time, the sexism is not malicious or intentional. What irks me is the belief that just because sexism is no longer extreme, women are supposed to be happy and accept the status quo as “good enough.”

I wonder why it’s too much to ask to be treated the same? Almost every female medical colleague I know has experienced sexism in one way or another. The subtlety of sexism nowadays makes it harder for women to get acknowledgment and recognition in the medical community.

Dr Cooper: Numerous studies have shown that female physicians are just as well trained as male physicians, maybe even more so. Some studies have even stated that women make better physicians than men — not just in terms of “bedside manner” and empathy, but also clinically. So why does discrimination and sexism in medicine linger or persist, in your opinion?

Dr Barney: That’s the million-dollar question. Part of it is a global comment on American society. I don’t think it’s a problem unique to medicine. However, the medical field is behind other industries in a lot of cultural aspects.

We are lagging in terms of regulating work hours and wellness. We are behind in getting help for physicians suffering from addiction and depression. We are behind in demanding better pay, and we continue to tolerate pay cuts despite our rising costs.

This article originally appeared on Medical Bag