The Price of Being a Female Doctor

Dr. Valerie Rein, PhD, coined the term “patriarchy stress disorder” (PSD) to codify the microaggressions that women experience every single day, simply because they inhabit the world in female bodies.

The levels of PSD in the medical field are sky-high.

This shows up in relation to nurses. I’ve seen many female nurses fawn over male doctors, ask if they need anything, take extra pains to make their days run more smoothly. 

If I expect the same treatment, I am unreasonable, a bitch, inappropriate, or out of line. 

It shows up in how we’re addressed. Studies show that male physicians are called by their title of “Doctor.” Female physicians are called by their first names. You know what? I worked my ass off for that title, and I’d like to be called by it. 

And let’s not even get started on the hidden curriculum specifically for women that we learn in med school. 

You had to be pretty – but not too pretty, or you’d get hit on by patients, attendings and other staff. But you didn’t want to look “ugly,” because then you weren’t “trying.”

You had to be really smart, but not too smart, or people would be threatened or wouldn’t like you or wouldn’t want to work with you. 

I felt safer after I was married.

Let me just repeat that: I felt safer working in a hospital setting after I was married. I purposefully chose not to have my engagement ring fused to my wedding ring. Why? Because we can’t always wear diamonds – they can poke through gloves – but if I had on just my wedding band, it was like a sign that shouted, “Don’t f*ck with me, I’m married.”

There were certain rotations where I literally did not feel safe. I never got raped in the parking lot, but I had to amend my physical appearance to alter the attention I was getting. I’d wear baggier scrubs and not put on makeup. In some situations, there was a constant aggressive sexual energy directed toward me, and I did not feel safe.

Then there’s the power dynamic. Imagine showing up to a new rotation and the attending starts hitting on you. What do you do? If you call him on it, it’s “Oh, you’re misreading the situation.” And then you have to hope that your speaking up doesn’t hurt your grade.

If you don’t call him on it, you start getting nurses whispering behind your back. “Dr. So-and-So is giving all this attention to the new, pretty medical student.” They think the worst. They start treating you like the bad guy, like you’re doing it for attention or advancement. And you’re thinking, I didn’t do ANYTHING! I just showed up to learn about surgery / ER / gynecology!

Women do not feel welcome in medicine, because in a lot of ways we aren’t. The system was built by men, for men, and the system hasn’t updated itself yet. The system doesn’t know it’s 2020; the system still thinks it’s 1950.

When the women get free and get in charge, watch out. You won’t even know what’s hit you.

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