Why National WOMEN Physician Day

I was standing in the OR, obviously pregnant with our second child, when the attending surgeon, whom I had introduced myself to seconds before as his medical student for the day, turned to the male medical student with anesthesia and asked “Are you married?”

“No, sir.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, sir.”
“Good. Women are just trouble. You need to complete residency first. Otherwise, they just slow you down because all they want to do is have babies…”
This student and I knew each other, and he looked over to me nervously with a “What in the world do we do here?!” face.
Odd, but he never addressed me, so what was I to do exactly?
Later, we were scrubbed in, patient asleep on the table, when I was asked what I wanted to specialize in. As my answer was not surgery, his response was “Oh good. Women don’t belong in medicine, let alone surgical specialties. They make poor financial partners…” [insert Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice].
Later that week, I discovered that he had given a similar speech to the female student who had rotated with him the month previously…which he had likely done multiple times before.
I say this not so that I can obtain pity or be praised for being such a trooper.
I tend to be that person who is frustrated about all of the special days and weeks we have to celebrate everyone and everything for simply doing his or her job.
But in this case, there are still interactions which I have described above that occur much too often…and I have been on the receiving end of it.
And no one says anything.
We smile and nod and laugh on cue, because it doesn’t rock the boat and we can remain in silent frustration instead of volatile confrontation with those in higher positions of authority than ourselves.
All of this occurs on top of being mistaken for nursing staff (which is fine…except that the men never do…), being paged after having spent an hour with a patient and their families discussing their case because “they are saying that they haven’t seen a doctor yet”, and are directly told that we should be at home since we have children…
Yes. We have made significant progress.
We have come a long way from 1847 when Elizabeth Blackwell was accidentally voted to be allowed to matriculate as the first and only female in her United States medical school, to now averaging approximately 50% of new medical students being female in the United States.
And when telling a male boss in my current residency program that we were expecting again, I was told “That’s awesome! That’s what this time in your life is for!” with absolute sincerity. And for these wonderful men who don’t think twice about females being physicians, I am thankful.
Unfortunately, the challenges, biases, and—occasionally—outright spite, however, still linger in many instances, which would take more than this blurb to discuss…and most of us won’t. Because we are too busy doing our jobs.

So yes.
I do celebrate the National Women Physicians Day.
I plan to do so for many years to come.
And if you have daughters, granddaughters, nieces…perhaps you should, too…

#nwpd #iamblackwell

Comments ( 4 )

  • Tricia

    Love you Dr Letney!!!! So proud of you!!!

  • Erica Hill

    I am currently a resident in the surgical residency that you rotated in as a medical student. I had a baby during residency and work with the surgeon you speak of in your blog. Not once was I made to feel ashamed of it by any of my attendings, as you mention you were in your story. Just saying….

    • I don’t know if there is much involvement from that particular individual in the program anymore. I was only with him for a number of hours that I could count, and the rest of the time was rather uneventful. In fact, I remember that he seemed to take my word seriously when dealing with a specific patient with whom I was concerned. He already had them on the surgery schedule before I could finish. Great surgeon. Maybe a bad period of time for him. Either way, the interaction that I had noted above and that at least one other had with him was much less than ok.
      I will say, everyone else in that program from attending to resident is wonderful. I thoroughly enjoy any time that I have spent with you guys- truly. One of my favorites – even as a lowly intern 😉

  • Dad

    Bravo my dear!! Well said.

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