Friday, October 23, 2015

She's the Man

I wonder how things would be different if I were a guy. Not only because I am curious about what its like to pee standing up, but because I wonder how differently the world would treat me.

I was walking through the Farmer’s Market today, in scrubs, coming back from shadowing.

“Nurse,” I hear someone yell from across the row of stalls laden with tomatoes and persimmons. Seeing as I currently have far less training and experience than a nurse, I didn’t turn around. But then he called again.

“Nurse!!!!!!” he yells.

Thinking someone might need an actual nurse I wheel around. It’s the cheese guy.

“Hey Nurse, want to try some cheese?” He says

Now, I’m not a girl to pass up free samples. But I refuse to be subjected to society’s standards of women in medicine inflicted upon me by a man selling cheese. Its bad enough in the hospital, let alone outside of it.

But what really gets me (and my roommates, who are reading this over my shoulder) going is when men—particularly men in power, think I’m interested in them telling me how to live my life—or inquire about when I intend to get pregnant (see. Never. Adverb, at no time, not ever).

This blatant mansplaining makes me want to lose it. I have thoughts and feelings and ideas. I know myself better than they know me. Having met me for five minutes does not give them any insight into my life. And yet, today I was supposed to shadow in a clinic. But instead of seeing patients, the attending talked to me for 4 hours about what he thinks I should be doing during med school and oh…he would like me to help him with his research.

Having three master’s degrees does make one rather popular in the research department. But I have never been paid for any of the data analysis I have done. How many more letters must I have behind my name to be taken seriously? The one and only time I ever asked to be paid for crunching numbers, the surgeon responded that there was no money for me, but not to worry because he doesn’t get paid for research either. He left out the fact that he makes over $500,000 a year and oh hey…is that your Maserati out front Dude?

“What’s a girl to do?”

No seriously. Tell me what I should do.

For more advice on being a woman in medicine, I reached out to the first woman to graduate from our medical school, back in 1972. Her name is Joanne Berkowitz and up until last year, she was still practicing medicine here in Sacramento. You can check out her picture right outside our lecture hall.

We talked for an hour about what UC Davis was like in 1968. Sexism was blatant and there was precious little she could do about it. Getting called nurse was the least of her worries. Surgeons would show up drunk to rounds, grope her and then operate. Harassment, crude jokes and being sent to make coffee just came with the territory. When I asked her how she managed to make it through what sounded like a horrific 4 years, her answer surprised me. She told me that she would have never made it through med school without the kindness and friendship of the men in her class.

“Most of them, were really, really good people,” she explained.

She told me about how one of her attendings got into the habit of ‘accidentally’ dropping things and then asking her to bend over and pick them up for him. But one of her male classmates always reached down to fetch the item before she could. Eventually the doctor gave up and stopped dropping stuff.

I know this post has a little man hating vibe to it, but that’s really not my intent (unless you happen to be that drunk surgeon from 1968 or drive a Maserati— then we have serious beef Sir).

I’m angry and frustrated when I feel as though I can’t stand up for myself without consequence. I hate that even in 2015 there is a double standard for men and women, that I barely know how to put into words, let alone try to change. But I know that regardless of our gender differences, we’re on the same team. 

Women and men are both critically important to helping women physicians succeed. 

I have been humbled by how women in our class empower and show love for each other—something that is so rare, and yet so amazing. Its all too easy to tear down a woman for even a modicum of success—but we reject the notion that if one woman succeeds that means another cannot. We purposefully reach out our hands and pull each other up and everyone ends up stronger for it.

I have also witnessed countless examples of men in our class supporting their female classmates. Whether by respecting them in leaderships roles, asking them for help, intentionally making room in a discussion for our thoughts or encouraging women who mumble an answer in class to yell it real loud. Most of the fathers in our class have daughters (Robert, you could be next my friend). I'd like to think that those with a Y chromosome have just as much girl power as we do. 

You my beautiful people are the way forward. 
You give me hope that we will continue to make medicine a more equitable place.  
You remind me that we'll be part of the solution instead of the problem.  

And on days like today when that barely seems enough, you give me wine and then call me so I can bitch about it. 


  1. Man on the plane, in the check out line at Trader Joe's, etc: "What do you do?"
    Me: "I'm a medical student."
    Man: "Oh so you're going to be a nurse."
    Me: :|

    ^I swear if I have to have that conversation 1 more time, I will order an actual soap box off amazon prime :P Nurses are amazing and deserve mountains of recognition & oodles of respect, but I've never once heard one of our male colleagues asked the same question.

    1. Seriously...Roshelle and I were just talking last night about how that happens all the time...especially at Trader Joe's for some reason. We should bulk order soap boxes online-- maybe we can get a group discount? <3

  2. Strange, when people tell me they go to medical school I assume they are learning to be doctors, cause my other friends say nursing school for nursing, and pharmacy, etc.

    I have noticed that when I told people I was in graduate school, people would assume for masters, even after I tell them, sometimes several times, that I am getting a PhD. I didn't think it was sexist, but maybe it is.

    Thanks for representing, and fighting for equality. I grew up thinking prejudice was a historical thing. HA! But maybe we can live to see the day where we get close to an equality equilibrium.

    Miss you, Fiona!!

  3. This is so awesome. Have you heard of the #ilooklikeasurgeon Twitter campaign? It looks like women are making moves towards correcting issues in even the most patriarchal of specialties.

    1. Thanks Arhana! Thanks for reading. I love #looklikeasurgeon, is there a #looklikeadocor? We should make one <3

  4. what gets me... and it continues to happen ALL the time... is when i'm standing with a group of students and a senior physician/researcher/professor/etc consistently looks the male students in the eye when talking. i clear my throat, ask questions, attempting to shift their gaze to mine, and very rarely succeed.

    though it's not a blatant form of sexism it sure feels like it.

    1. Ugh-- yea that's bullshit. It seems like a small thing, but its huge deal. That sends the message that we aren't as valuable and aren't expected to answer questions as much or know as much. Its the subtle stuff that is the hardest to get others to understand and acknowledge as a problem and not just 'our imagination.' Thanks for sharing <3