Over winter break, I shadowed three neurologists in the ICU in a hospital in San Francisco. I enjoyed it so much and could not have been happier for this opportunity, except for the bitter taste of reality I had last Thursday. I had previously failed to notice significant gender disparities because the ICU usually seemed pretty balanced gender-wise, with a few more female nurses but not a disproportionate amount. However, last Thursday left me with quite an opposite impression. I attended a meeting with a few of the hospital’s neurologists and radiologists, where they discussed their patients and specific cases. I was among the first to enter the meeting alongside a medical student. Slowly, as doctor by doctor filled the room the gender disproportion sharpened more and more. I counted 11 people sitting around the meeting table: the only two females were the neurologists I was shadowing, and the rest were self-identified male doctors.
It seemed strange to me, where were all the female doctors I had assumed would be at the meeting? An hour prior, I attended a lunch conference on Infectious Diseases in the same hospital, yet that room was mostly filled with women. What was happening? I then realized that the women I had just seen were probably medical students and would not become doctors for at least 2, 3, or 5 years. It is important to keep in mind that the slow turnout rate from college students to practicing doctors is due to the long process of arduous training. In the last 15 years, female students have received much more encouragement to choose a STEM career, which would make sense for why a lot of these college students are just finishing medical school or graduate school. This coincided with the fact that the youngest doctors in the room seemed to be the two female neurologists, both whom had started practicing medicine 9 years ago. But still, women did not even make up 1/3 of that room! Something else stuck out to me too: excluding myself, there seemed to be only two racial groups present. I counted 6 white and 5 Asian doctors.* In terms of People of Color, Asian-Americans were well represented, but no Latino, African-American, or Middle Eastern doctors were present. The lack of racial diversity in that meeting astonished me. And this problem can be expanded from an 11 person meeting to the hospital. At the ICU where I spent most of my time, there were always people coming and going from nurses, interventionists, office staff, physical therapists, and neurologists. In my two weeks there I was able to see many different faces, to my dismay, most of them were white and Asian. I only met one African-American and one Latino worker: a male nurse and a female office worker respectively.
It’s interesting to see how even in 2015 with books like “Barbie: I can be a Computer Engineer”** (the book in itself still manages to be sexist but anyway that’s a whole other discussion) and respected female candidates for top offices in U.S. politics, people still have a very gendered mindset. I have lost count of how many people have asked me, “Oh so tell me about your doctor, how is he?” To which I respond, “He is actually a she, and she is a boss.” I understand how hard and tedious being politically correct is because writing four more characters so ‘he’ becomes a ‘he/she’ is too strenuous, but it would be refreshing if once in a while someone surprised me with a “How is she?”
*These were just my observations and the way I identified some of these people might not correctly align with the way they self-identify.