When I was a medical student, now over a decade ago, we had a fairly active “women in medicine” chapter, despite the fact that our class was at least 50%female. Understandably, the whole work-life balance debate was a main topic of discussion, although thanks to the recent uproar over part-time docs, that issue is forefront again. At any rate, one thing I remember from these gatherings is a statement made by an upper level resident offering her worldly advice to us impressionable young medical students.
“I watch Sports Center with my boyfriend every night,” she said. “That way I have something to contribute to conversations with the guys while we’re in the OR.”
Consider the opposite scenario – a group of male medical students getting together for support, being told to read In Style magazine or watch a reality TV dating show so they’d have something to talk to their female colleagues about (I know, gender stereotypes abound).
The question arose back then – do we, as female medical students and residents have to play in a man’s world to get ahead? And is it over when we’re attendings?Are we still excluded from the clubhouse?
A few months ago I attended a local medical society women’s group where we explored the very same questions. We discussed how women tend to emphasize group collaboration over individual achievement. When given a compliment, many women will deflect or minimize the praise. Does this partially explain the reason women physicians are paid less than their male counterparts? Through role playing exercises, we learned how to craft PAR (problem, action, results) statements and borrowed other concepts from the business world, such as having a ready-to-go elevator speech about your accomplishments in the event you meet an important contact. I have to admit, I do like knowing that I have a way to communicate my current projects to the CEO or a colleague from another institution when I run into him or her at a meeting.
However, a lot of these changes are conversation styles or body language typically attributed to men. Someone raised the point I had been wondering years ago, “Do we really need to try to act more like men to get ahead?”
Sorry, new medical students and residents, I have no conclusions for you today. Concentrate on learning as much as you can and caring for your patients. Be confident. Be assertive when you need to. Respect each and every member of the healthcare team. The vast majority of your patients won’t care if you’re a male doctor or a female doctor. They just want a good doctor. Happy July 1st – happy medical new year – and good luck!