Studies illuminate that although science and medicine have taken great strides in health and care in the last hundred years, gender roles and stereotypes still guide society’s thoughts on who can be a surgeon. But this problem stretches past the borders of America because almost 70% of newly qualified women doctors from the United Kingdom expressed the opinion that surgery is not a welcoming profession for women.
“Surgery still remains very male dominated, and it does still appear as an old boys’ club and you’re very much an outsider as a woman.” Dr. Jyoti Shah, a surgeon, explained to BBC radio.
Society has come far. And yet, we still have far to go. After all, the first woman admitted to medical school was only accepted because everyone thought her application was simply a joke. In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell received her diploma from Geneva Medical College. Despite two hundred years passing since Elizabeth Blackwell made history, some people still treat women in medicine like a joke.
In today’s economy, women receive the short end of the stick. A woman is expected to earn a salary, care for the children, maintain the home, have the perfect body, and so much more. Despite the value that women routinely add to our daily lives, women still experience gender discrimination and unequal pay.
The Multi-Tasking Surgeon-Wife-Mother
The career woman remains the child bearer and statistically still maintains the most responsibility within the house hold and family. More often than not, the woman alters her career path to accommodate these other responsibilities outside of her career, even when her job is more prestigious than her partner’s.
“This is about saving lives and recruiting the best talent possible, regardless of gender, we want to create an environment that is appealing to everybody – we owe that to patients.” – Dr. Jyoti Shah
Women face gender discrimination that looks friendly on the surface but masks a more sarcastic barb. For example, one woman reported being told by a senior level individual that “you have to ask yourself why you’re doing medicine. Because you’d better not be taking up a spot in your class just to leave later and become a pretty little housewife and raise kids.” Although statistically, women are more likely to leave the medical field than male colleagues, the question should be, “How can the medical field be a better, safer, and more welcoming environment for women?”
The Ridiculous Choice Offered to Mom Surgeons: Good Mom or Good Surgeon
Men are never expected to choose between a career and fatherhood. In fact, men are encouraged to do both, but when it comes to women, the idea is that it’s an either or option. Double standards rule gender discrimination.
While most medical schools offer medical students the option to freeze the tenure track due to various reasons, not all schools give this option. One woman shared how she gave birth to two children within two years, and this slowed her academic and clinical productivity. Since her medical school lacked options for medical students with children, she had to leave the tenure track. Women bring talent and perspective to the health care system that is irreplaceable.
“A woman could either be a good mom, good wife or good surgeon – pick one.” – an attending surgeon.
The male-dominated surgery field fails to recognize the gender hierarchy. Since this gender discrimination benefits the men in the system, they passively allow it to continue. Women should not be told to choose between their family or their career.
“Manage your expectations…no one can have it all these days, in any profession, not just medicine.” Dr. Lisa Lattanza shared with her audience. “Your kids are not going to hate you for what you do for a living.”
Women surgeons are quick to point out that integrating a family life with a surgeon career is difficult. However, if surgery is a woman’s passion, she should pursue it. No life balance is perfect, and something will always need to give, whether it’s work, family, or another hobby. This is a fact of every demanding career. Meanwhile, women must continue to manage the social pressures placed on them to not only work but care for the family. This is not an either or situation. Choosing to be a female surgeon does not negate the ability to be a good mom, wife, or whatever else desired to be.