Are Women Better Doctors?
Seventy years ago the only doctors in America were men.
My 98 year old grandma was a RN back in the day, and I am always fascinated by her stories of how different and barbaric medicine was not too long ago.
When I asked what made her choose to be a nurse she simply responded, “Women were only allowed to go to school to be nurses or teachers. So I just chose to be a nurse.”
I would be a nurse right now too, that is if a bunch of women hadn’t stood up for what they thought was right and fought for equal opportunity.
Even as a three year old girl my mom knew I would go in to the medical field. I remember my grandpa’s friends leaning in and asking “So what do you want to be when you grow up, dear?”
“A doctor” I would simply answer.
“You mean a nurse, honey?” They would smile in amusement.
“No, a doctor” I would confidently reply, naive to the fact that being a doctor wasn’t a thing a girl grew up to do in their paradigm.
Much has changed over the course of the last few decades and now we are fortunate enough to have equal opportunity. That is with many thanks to the women that fought for equal rights. In 1961 only 5.5% of students in medical programs were women. In the past 47 years we have made some real progress as 48.6% of students matriculated in medical school programs are now female.
Many people, male and female, don’t always enjoy being a doctor because it is a tremendous never ending responsibility. Anyone in an information based profession knows full well what a nightmare certain social events can be when people are asking for free advice. It is only when you are sick, exhausted, and having the worst day ever, that you are held hostage by some long lost family member or remote friend of a friend that wants to drill you for information.
When I find myself caught in those annoying moments I dig deep for gratitude. Gratitude that I am fortunate enough to even be a doctor. To have had a lifelong dream, and have been able to follow it. Mere decades ago I could have had the dream but never had the opportunity to fulfill it. I often remind myself of all the women that wanted to be doctors and were never allowed to actualize their dreams, so that I can muster the needed enthusiasm to care for an acquaintance’s non-urgent medical problems in my free time.
In naturopathic medical school about 75% of the students matriculated are women. The nature of our medicine tends to attract female students as well as female patients, as I would guess that 75% of my patients are also female. When I worked at Virginia Mason Medical Center it seemed that the female general practitioners were always in hot demand. It appeared that most women only wanted to see women physicians and many men also felt more comfortable being examined by a female doctor. Most women were willing to wait a week for an appointment regarding an acute complaint, and 3 months for an appointment with a female practitioner just for an annual physical! Over the eight years that I worked there, the clinic was finally forced to keep up with patient demands and hire on more and more female providers.
From my observations though, the clinic would have had to have a staff of female providers well above 50% in order to satisfy patient demand. Women tend to go to the doctor more frequently than men, so it only makes sense that the clinic continues to hire on female doctors until they reach their saturation point with patient satisfaction. Especially since most of the demand for female practitioners was coming from the younger generations, the demand should only continue to grow.
Which got me thinking…is having a staff of female physicians greater than 50% going against the rights of male physicians? Should medical schools then matriculate more women to satisfy demands in out-patient care, or is that just oppressive to males? What do you think? Do you insist on a female doctor, or do you have no preference?
Researchers at John Hopkins concluded after a large meta-analysis that women doctors spent more time with their patients (an average of 23 minutes vs 21 minutes), that they established better emotional rapport, talked to them more, and involved the patient more in the treatment plan.
Personally I have seen some very amazing male physicians in action so I have a hard time arguing that women are better doctors, I think it all depends on the individual. But, I do have to say that the results of that study involving 900 physicians and 3700 patients should make a lot of women proud!
Whether you are a female physician, or any woman that has a job that you love, if you are making a fair wage, if you are educated, you owe thanks to all the women that fought for you. Just stop and ask an older woman what it was like back in the fifties, sixties, seventies and even eighties for women in the work world, you will be surprised to hear about things that were going on not too long ago. If you care to comment on what life was like for you working in an extremely unequal work force, I would love to hear from you!
Also in honor off Mother’s Day don’t forget to tell your mom thank you for driving you around in all the carpools, packing all those lunches, helping you with your homework, dealing with you when you were tediously annoying, doing a million thoughtful labors of love that often go unnoticed and without credit, as well as all the other sacrifices that each mother has to make for the sake of the greater good. And all in the name of putting quality people out there in this world.
I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to my Mom and all of you “Mothers” in my life.
Thank you all for what you have done, for what you do, and for what you continue to do!
Thank you especially to all the women older than me (21 and above of course) that fought to make our work environment what it is today.
Things may still not quite be perfect, but they certainly are a whole lot better.
Happy Mother’s Day!!!