Will Sexism Always Be a Part of Working in Medicine?

In April, seven women and one man filed a lawsuit, as first reported in Science, accusing Mount Sanai and several employees within the school’s Arnhold Institute for Global Health of a toxic work environment, especially for women older than 40.  In particular, the institute’s Director, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, was labeled as “abusive, dismissive and hostile” toward many of his older female colleagues and researchers after he took over the position…a position some believe should have gone to a more experienced, but older, female in the Institute at the time of his hiring.

After the lawsuit was filed, several hundred students and faculty members wrote letters to Mt. Sanai’s Board demanding a thorough investigation.  The Board of Trustees stated in late May that they would investigate, but as of today’s writing, the report has not been released.  Instead, Dr. Singh will be stepping down from the directorship but will remain on faculty. A female physician-researcher, Dr. Rachel Vreeman, will take his place.

Without the investigation’s report, it is impossible to know if there was true discrimination and hostility, or simply personality differences and miscommunications.  However, to most professional women who may be reading this, it is quite easy to imagine a younger, male colleague being promoted over them.  Frankly, it’s happened to almost all of us who have ever been in an employed situation. Most female physicians are quick to recount almost daily situations that most of our male colleagues likely don’t encounter, or encounter very infrequently.  As a very frank, strong, surgically-trained, female physician, I’d like to think my success rides only on my earned merit, but the truth is that even I have experienced discrimination…often at the hands of female nursing staff or administrators.  In addition, I suspect older males may have some similar stories. I don’t pretend to know what the answer is, and I don’t particularly love living in a world where we all feel we must walk on eggshells as to not offend or discriminate, but surely there has to be a middle ground.  Have you experienced workplace harrassment, discrimination, or sexism?  If so, please tell your story in the comments.

Karyn Tapley MD

Dr. Karyn L Tapley, MD is a residency-trained Ob/Gyn with a fellowship in Integrative Medicine. She was born in Ft. Myers, Florida into a military family and spent the first few years of life living with her parents in Okinawa, Japan. After returning to the states, her father was recruited by Texas Instruments and the family moved to Houston where she spent most of her young life. She moved back to Florida in her early 20s and obtained a BS in Marine Biology from the University of West Florida, before moving on to the University of Florida for medical school. She obtained her residency at Christiana Health System in Delaware. This large, community hospital was situated on the I-95 corridor between Philadelphia and Washington, DC, providing ample educational opportunities with over 8000 deliveries a year and only 16 residents. After successfully completely residency, Dr. Tapley moved across the country to be closer to her husband who had been deployed to the West Coast. She joined a Gyn-only practice with Aesthetics in Oregon and was able to add an extensive cosmetic-surgery education to her skillset. From there, she transitioned to traditional Ob/Gyn care, as an employed physician, in northern Washington state so that she could be closer to her husband who was stationed there. Frustrated with the typical bureaucracy & politics of hospital-based care, she turned to rural Locum Tenens (“traveling doctor”) for a change of pace and to have some control over her life. For over 3 years, she traveled with her husband, now retired from the Navy, her 2 large dogs, and an Amazon parrot named “Cowboy” in a small, vintage travel trailer, caring for women and babies in rural towns from Bar Harbor, ME to Astoria, OR. Eventually, they were ready to return home and she opened her own women’s health clinic and medical spa in northern Washington state. It was during this time she obtained her fellowship in Integrative Medicine from the world-renowned Dr. Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Her non-clinical interests include real estate investing and financial planning for female physicians and other high-income female professionals. She has completed her real estate license training and is currently completing her master’s-level Certified Financial Planning course to sit for the CFP exam. She will be a guest speaker at a major non-clinical career conference in October, speaking on Locums opportunities. For fun, she races cars. 

  4 comments for “Will Sexism Always Be a Part of Working in Medicine?

  1. mamadoc
    July 18, 2019 at 10:29 pm

    65 here, and yes I know this story well. And after 50? It . Got. Worse. Especially from admin, who has no respect for doctors of any age, and more discouraging from younger male colleagues who (theoretically) were raised in more enlightened times and should know better.

  2. SP
    July 13, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    Certainly little has changed over time. I believe it is because effort and pressure have not been applied strategically. I recently read an article about sexism in academia and the parallels to academic medicine are quite easily discernible. Take a look at this analysis in The Chronicle of Higher Education and then let’s see whether we can develop a logical plan. It’s not really that constructive to complain about the problem, but rather, it’s important to put together resources and standards. Then, we need to demand that departments adhere to these standards or risk losing standing, accreditation, academic funding etc. It can be done, but it requires a sustained effort. This article reviews some of the insidious nature of the abuse that needs to be singled out so that people know where to start. https://www.chronicle.com/article/AbusersEnablers-in/241648/?fbclid=IwAR2mEEA6NnPFqRWMdFeTvVDzVi4YTuF6ZABqbuAZDwRjI53qJuZUcYqlIgA#.XRuMqjz

  3. Jesse Lee Belville,PA-C
    July 12, 2019 at 3:46 pm

    YES, there will always be sexism ,especially in a country with such diversity as the USA. As a male, 69 years old, I was told 8 years ag by a Physician from India, he hiredonly female PA’s or NP’s because they are easier to dominate and control. I wad astoundedby his statement ,but the looked at his staff, all female. No male docs or male midlevels. I thanked him for his time and went elsewhere. Not uncommon from his part of the world, and there are biological differences between males and females. It is all Competition all the time at every level. Medicine, laborrers, business. Fair is a limited human concept which everyone talks about but FEW or NONE actually do.. Such has been ,is, and will be the way of the future. Just deal with what is.

  4. Deborah Sutcliffe
    July 12, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    As a 55 year old female family doctor– you betcha. To the point that it is so commonplace it is hard to even pinpoint specific events. Not being believed to be the doctor when I am on the phone… asked by patients for nursing things… expected to change diapers in the nursery while my male colleagues walk out and tell staff the Baby Jones needs to be changed…. propositioned by patients and staff alike… running a code by telling the male intern what to say because my voice wasn’t paid attention to…. written up when I didn’t remove drapes/clean the patient after a delivery while male residents simply stood up, removed their gown and left the room…. asked when the “real doctor” would be there…

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