Clinical News

Is Being a Doctor Harder for Women?

Is Being a Doctor Harder for Women?

It’s a tough road to becoming a doctor. Sadly, it doesn’t get any easier as the years progress. Doctors spend too much time filling out paperwork and seeing patients that they barely have time for anything else. Ask any medical student or resident and they’ll tell you that they lost a few friends along the line. At some point, you have to make the choice between succeeding and maintaining your social life. Friends and contacts aren’t the only things that can be lost. A lot of medical students also have to quit some of their hobbies in order to be able to keep up with their studying and assignments.

The difficulty of becoming a doctor isn’t just because of the actual knowledge, which is both theoretical as well as clinical, but also because of the sacrifices and decisions that are made along the way. Now imagine how hard all that sounds, and picture how much harder it is for women. Female physicians are role models and are to be looked up to as proof that women can have it all. It’s not easy being discriminated against, making less money than your male counterpart, and having to raise a family, all while making people better and saving lives. Female physicians face many difficulties and have even harder choices to make.

For starters, there’s the issue of discrimination. Back in the 1960s, only 7% of graduating medical students were women. Now over one-third of all doctors are women, while about fifty percent of current medical students are females. The past few decades have been a transitional period where the medical profession went from being almost a completely male profession to including and incorporating more females. Although the number of participants has increased, their overall leading role in the field of medicine hasn’t looked that great.

Female doctors make less money than their male counterparts. A study posted in JAMA shows that male doctors make an average of about $250,000 per year while females make about $200,000. This shows a wealth gap of about $50,000. After adjusting for other variables that may have influenced these incomes, the difference remained about $20,000 which is still pretty significant. Not only do they make less money, but they’re also less likely to become professors and hold positions, such medical school deans or heads of departments. These numbers show that there is in fact a difference and that these aren’t false accusations. A woman who went the same years of training and is at the same level of any man shouldn’t be making less money just because of her gender, nor should she be denied positions because of it.

There’s also the discrimination that happens on a day-to-day basis. Many female doctors report that they’ve been mistaken by patients for being nurses or even pharmacists. This happens despite them wearing their white coats and introducing themselves properly. Many still expect doctors to be male and nurses to be female, which is a bizarre concept in 2018. One doctor says that if she’s in a room with a patient, she is often neglected if there’s another male in the room, even if he’s just a medical student. The patient would instead talk to the male medical student and not pay much attention to the female resident. This goes a long way to showing what society expects. People would rather talk to and put their faith in a male medical student who has very little experience than a resident who underwent years of training just because she’s a woman.

Dr. Julia Files, an associate professor at MayoClinic in Arizona, says that if she’s on a panel she’s less likely to be called “Dr.” by the moderator. She says a moderator will thank Dr. X, Y, Z, and 'Julia,' using her first name and demonstrating a lack of appreciation. This pattern is also present in academic lectures. Male presenters are always referred to as “Doctor” while female presenters aren’t always referred to by their title. This is discriminatory on many levels. Women face difficulties when it comes to income, positions, and even respect. It’s no wonder that female physicians have higher suicide rates than male physicians when all factors are considered.

Besides all the things that are taken away from them because of their gender, women are also often expected to raise their family and spend time with their children. Any given doctor has endless hours of work per week, but for women there’s the added responsibility of raising children. Every woman is expected to take maternity leave when she’s going to have a baby, but how many men take paternity leave? There’s certainly no room for comparison. Having to take maternity leaves puts a woman at an even greater disadvantage. She was already less likely to get a position because of her gender, but what do you think her odds are like if she’s about to take maternity leave? Who will give her a position when she’s about to leave for a few months to take her of her baby? The odds were already against her at the start and they’ll only become worse.

All doctors have to give up a few friends and hobbies. For women, the added decision is whether she prefers to fight harder for her career or start a family which might set her back a few months. It’s certainly not an easy decision to make and one you won’t understand unless you’re a female doctor. Females in other professions face the same problems, but to a lesser extent. In medicine, everything is amplified. The stress, the workload, the education, and maybe the income are all higher in medicine than in other careers. Naturally, being a woman practicing medicine is certainly one of the most difficult things to be.

Sure a woman at a desk job has it tougher than a guy at the same desk job, but she also has it easier than a female physician. For women, the stakes are simply too high. She’s already at a disadvantage when it comes to income and positions because of her gender. She also faces discrimination from patients who have a hard time accepting the existence of female doctors as well as from peers who have the same issue. She has to work extra hard to earn her place and the trust and respect of everyone around her. A patient who can’t trust you won’t follow your instructions and ultimately, probably won’t get better. A study shows that referrals to a female surgeon decrease after a patient’s death, but referrals to male surgeons after patient deaths are pretty much the same. Add to all that the factor of starting a family and raising children.

Stanford launched a program that allows doctors to “bank” the hours they spend serving on committees or mentoring junior doctors. Doctors can then use these credits and exchange them for child care, ready-made meals, housekeeping, and dry cleaning pickup. This experiment has shown promise and might be a step towards increasing job satisfaction.

Female doctors are nothing short of heroes. They should be role models for all young girls out there who are told that women can’t have it all. They are living proof that it’s possible. They spend much of their lives and careers being underestimated for reasons they can’t control. Just because of her gender, she was automatically put at a disadvantage. It is said that if you find yourself at a disadvantage or difficult situation, that it’s because you can face it. This is probably true for women. I’m positive that there are very few men out there who can do all the things women do with such efficiency and excellence.  

Key Takeaways

  • Women in medicine face significant prejudice.
  • Taking maternity leave is almost mandatory, but damages a woman's career prospects.
  • Female doctors work just as hard as males, yet face a discrepancy in income.