Women Have Made Strides in Medicine, but There Are Miles to Go

As a female physician, I was excited that March was recognized as International Women’s Month. Reflecting back on the day, I was happy about the strides the medical community has made in regards to including women and treating women as equals.

As the only woman in my residency class, it is clear that the medical field has work to do to make the field more inclusive toward women. Personally, I am treated well within the residency program, but my presence is questioned by others in the hospital. Orders I’ve placed for agitated patients are second guessed, I’m referred to my first name rather than doctor, and I’m often asked if I’m a nurse or physician assistant.

When rotating in a more rural area, I was told by many patients that I was one of the first female doctors they have met. I was shocked! I was relieved that they were thankful for my care but wondered if my decision-making was questioned owing to my gender.

I had a patient tell me I was the first female psychiatrist she had worked with and was apprehensive about her appointment with me because I was a woman. Why is there still this bias and stereotype? I have also experienced inappropriate flirtation from patients and staff, questions about my age, and marital status. When discussing this with my male co-residents, they have not faced questions like this.

Even worse is women physicians putting each other down. As a third-year medical student, I recall being terrified of a particular female surgeon who had a reputation of being hard only on female students.

During a presentation that I prepared diligently, on my first slide I had not provided all the information about the patient. I was about to explain my reason behind this and I was yelled at in front of a room full of students and had the surgeon walk out of the presentation. I learned nothing from this interaction and spent the rest of my surgery actively avoiding this surgeon. I was pleased to find other female physicians who were actively interested in teaching and mentoring me and I slowly became less timid about asking questions.

Biases toward women are not only present in medicine, but also in my favorite pastime: marathon running. This year’s Boston Marathon marks the 55th anniversary of women being allowed to participate in the race.

This was shocking to me and after reading more about this, the first woman participant, Kathrine Switzer, made her Boston Marathon debut in 1967. There are pictures of her literally being pushed out of the race by other male participants. Her bravery carved the way for female runners and the race now boasts a very competitive women’s field. I am in awe of women in athletics and in medicine who have fought for our rights and broke down barriers.

My hope is that men, women, and the entire medical community can reflect on the positive changes and strides that have been made for women in medicine but also look into inherent biases and work toward more opportunities and changes for women.

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About Dr Emily Goncalves

Emily S. Goncalves, MD, MBA, is a psychiatry resident at Delaware Psychiatric Center in New Castle. She is a competitive runner and ran for Syracuse University. She continues to live an active lifestyle and has competed in eight marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Emily hopes to share her passion for running with her patients and is interested in pursuing a career in consultation and liaison psychiatry. She also enjoys writing about her running adventures.

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