Women physicians face unique challenges because of their gender in the traditionally male oriented profession of medicine. During Women in Medicine Month, ACP asked members to share stories of particularly challenging situations they faced as women physicians.
We share these stories to celebrate the support and guidance these women received from colleagues to resolve the situations, but also to show women physicians that they are not alone. Many have faced similar situations and challenges, and we hope these vignettes serve as inspiration to others.
If you wish to share your story or provide a possible outcome for a story below, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear from you.
Scenario #1: "This Girl"
While precepting a female resident physician, Dr. X is in a patient's room with the resident speaking to their female patient when the patient refers to the resident as "this girl." The patient continues to be intentionally disrespectful of the resident physician and does not address the resident in a professional capacity.
Dr. X advises the patient that the resident physician is her colleague and that she is not "this girl," but "Dr. Y." They proceed to complete the patient's care needs together.
Scenario #2: Bropropriation
While attending a board meeting for a prominent organization, Dr. K voices a creative idea for a strategic planning goal the board is discussing. Her idea receives a lukewarm response, and the board moves on to other suggestions. Fellow board member Dr. J paraphrases Dr. K's idea, shares it as his own, and is met with resounding enthusiasm by others at the table.
Board member Dr. M raises her hand and says, "I would like to discuss the idea that Dr. K brought to the table and Dr. J expanded upon."
Scenario #3: "My Name is Dr. A"
Dr. A was invited to give welcoming remarks at a cancer survivorship banquet. At the opening of the evening's program, Dr. A's former patient introduces her by her first and last name, and then introduces a male physician as Dr. B.
Dr. A says, "I think I heard my name announced, but not my title. I am Dr. A of County Medical Center."
Scenario #4: Know Your Worth
Recent fellowship graduate Dr. R is excited to have secured an offer for her first post-training position from County Medical Center. Her mentor, Dr. S, recommends she speak with Dr. T, a male colleague who was recently hired by County Medical Center in the same department as Dr. R. During her conversation with Dr. T, she learns that other recent hires for the same position were offered moving or start-up packages that were not included in her offer.
Dr. R uses the information she learned from Dr. T about the benefits offered to others by County Medical Center to negotiate a better offer.
Scenario #5: Maternity Leave during Fellowship
Dr. E is expecting her first child while completing her fellowship training. Her program director informs her that there is no maternity leave during training. In order to have time off after the baby is born, Dr. E doesn't take any vacation days or sick days despite struggling with hypertension early in her pregnancy.
Dr. E's co-fellow, Dr. F, informs her that trainees are entitled to maternity leave and suggests that she meet with a colleague in Graduate Medical Education, who confirms the maternity leave policy and helps Dr. E arrange her maternity leave.
Scenario #6: Student Doctors in Training
Dr. W is teaching two female medical students in a hospital room when she is interrupted by a male surgical specialist. In his dialogue with the patient, the surgical specialist refers to the medical students as "these girls."
Dr. W. interrupts the surgical specialist saying, "these women are student doctors training to be physicians."
Dr. W. encourages her medical students to introduce themselves as "student doctors" and discourages the use of self-minimizing language, such as "I'm just a student."
Scenario #7: An Excellent Comment
During a meeting being led by Dr. L, one of her female colleagues, Dr. S made an excellent point during a discussion about a key issue being addresses by their department. Moments later, a man at the table restates Dr. S's comment as his own.
Dr. L responds to the man's comment saying, "Thank you for emphasizing Dr. S's excellent comment."
Scenario #8: Mansplaining
Dr. E chairs a quality committee. During one of her committee meetings, a male colleague mansplains one of the committee's policies to female members, including Dr. B, the policy's author.
At a break in his explanation, Dr. E says, "Thanks for highlighting those policy points. I believe it was Dr. B who wrote that policy. Dr. B, what else do you think we should cover?"
Scenario #9: The Troublemaker
Physicians gather for a committee meeting at their institution. Among the agenda items is discussing possible candidates for an open committee seat vacated by a physician who left the institution. The committee of eight men and one woman begin reviewing and discussing the CVs of a few physicians short-listed for the open seat on their committee.
After discussing several potential additions to the committee, the committee arrives at Dr. S's CV. She is an experienced and highly-regarded physician in the institution with significant work that aligns with the committee's primary goals and objectives.
"She's difficult. She's a troublemaker," committee member Dr. N chimes in with an eye roll and displeased facial expression as he flips to the next CV in the pile.
A committee member asks, "How is Dr. S difficult? What makes her a troublemaker?" Dr. N doesn't offer a response. "Looking at Dr. S's CV, she has successfully lead initiatives like those we are looking to implement. I think that kind of experience could make Dr. S an asset to our committee. Let's review her qualifications for this position."
A committee member asks, "How is Dr. S difficult? What makes her a troublemaker?" "She's aggressive," Dr. N elaborated. "Dr. G, Dr. T, and several other physicians at this institution are also aggressive leaders," the committee member points out. "Are these individuals/physicians/colleagues also troublemakers? Let's review these candidates on their merit."