Melissa Parsons, MD
Half But NOT Equal
Updated: May 20, 2018
The year, 2017, was a big year for women in medicine. It marked the first time that the number of women enrolling in US medical schools exceeded the number of men - 50.7% of the matriculating classes of 2017 to be exact. We have done it. We have become, by a tiny fraction, the majority. When you look back at the history of women in medicine, this year is a huge victory. But I would argue, that we, as women, may make up 50% of those becoming doctors, but we are still far from equal.
How do I know that inequality still exists? Oh let me count the ways…
I know because:
I've been told I'm too pretty to be a doctor. I'm too young to be a doctor. Oh and my favorite - that I cannot be a doctor, because men are doctors. Women are nurses.
I've seen a colleague have to use force to get away from a patient that forced her face into his genitals during an exam.
When I walk in the room to see a patient with any other male (resident, medical student, nurse, paramedic), the patient talks directly to the male and ignores me, despite me stating my doctor identity.
I've been called bitchy and arrogant on so many evaluations by my peers - including other women - for being a strong female, for displaying leadership qualities, for having confidence. Because confidence in a woman automatically makes her arrogant, a bitch, or both.
When I walk in an exam room, despite introducing myself as Dr. Parsons, I'm called nurse. And let me be clear, being called nurse is NOT an insult. The assumption that since I am female, I must be a nurse and could not possibly be a doctor - that is the insult. It is not an insult to me. It is an insult to all women. When my female nurses (not the male ones) are assumed to be doctors - THAT moment is when we will start to see equality.
Of the consultant male resident who started ordering things over me in a resuscitation until he realized that I was the attending. Then he informed me that I should wear something that made it more clear I was an attending. Because my black scrubs don't make it obvious I'm a physician. Because if I was a six-foot tall male, he would never had made that error.
When you google image search women doctors you get this…
Look at the frequently searched words to go with “women doctors”, which included: hot, hot female, prostate exam, cute. I do NOT want to be hot doctor. Or a cute doctor. I want to be a competent, compassionate, badass doctor that is saving lives.
The average national gender pay gap among physicians is 26.5% less per year. That means, on average, female doctors make $91,284 less than what the average male doctor makes!
(According to Doximity's First Annual Physician Compensation Report - April 2017)
Women hold fewer leadership positions in departments and medical societies around the country than men do. Women hold fewer academic positions than men do as well. There are less female department chairs and chief medical officers. There are less female professors.
I know because it is NOT just in medicine that we are HALF but not EQUAL. In 2015, women accounted for 52 percent of all workers employed in management, professional, and related occupations. That same year, women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $726, which represented 81 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($895). Currently, despite being 50% of those employed, women make up 19.8% of Congress members and 12% of women state governors. Women currently hold 26 (5.2%) of CEO positions at those S&P 500 companies.
So yes we made it to 50%. But no, we are NOT there yet.