Women and Healthcare: How Misogyny Affects Patients and Physicians

The mingling of adults and the clinking of wine glasses fills the room as some New Age rendition of the beloved Christmas carols hums on the surround sound system. Someone’s mom is drunkenly warbling along to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, and screaming children are having a lightsaber duel using pool table poles. It’s a few days before Christmas and I find myself hiding in a corner, relishing in my antisocial tendencies at yet another holiday party.

As expected, I’m quickly spotted by a family acquaintance. He approaches me, says hi and asks the all-too-familiar question:

“So, how’s college? Do you know what you want to do after you graduate?”

I take a deep breath and plaster a smile so wide I could be the poster girl for Crest teeth whitening strips.

“I’m a biology major and I’m really liking it so far. Maybe I’ll go to medical school, or some kind of graduate school at least.”

He furrows his brow and laughs.

“But you’re too pretty to be a doctor!”

I chuckle nervously and excuse myself, eager to find my friends and to denounce his ignorance.

I should’ve responded that, in fact, physical attractiveness and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. Thinking otherwise is highly offensive and outdated, and it’s a belief that has been popularized for far too long by a society that excels at objectifying women.

More interestingly, it is a belief that encompasses the flawed societal perspective of women in healthcare, not only as doctors but also as patients.

It turns out that we haven’t progressed as far from the Victorian concept of domestic spheres as we’d like to believe.

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, at an average American medical school, only 4% of full professors are female even though 30-50% of medical students are women. Despite findings that male and female faculty are equally ambitious and passionate about their work, women continue to progress at a slower rate than their male counterparts.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the wage disparity between men and women in the medical field. A 2012 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that male physicians earned nearly $14,000 more than their female colleagues. The kicker? The study already corrected for specialty, rank, and leadership, so the argument that men pursue more competitive, better
paying specialties is invalid.

medic-563423_1920In addition, a 2000 study in ‘Annals of Internal Medicine’ found that almost 50% of female physicians in the United States reported being sexually harassed by their colleagues, while few male faculty reported likewise. Thus, although there has been a steady increase in the number of female working physicians, gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment are still prevalent in the medical field.

However, female physicians are not the only victims of this discrimination. Female patients are also subject to a decreased quality of healthcare compared to males.

As found in a 2001 study by the University of Maryland, there exists a bias against women in the treatment of pain.

“Women are biologically more sensitive to pain than men…[but their] pain reports are taken less seriously,” the study concluded.

More specifically, women are more likely to have their pain reports dismissed as psychological and emotional, therefore unconcerning to doctors. As a result, men are more likely to be prescribed medication when they report pain, whereas women are more likely to be given sedatives. Not only are women more prone to feeling pain, but they’re also more prone to being accused of lying about it.

In other words, the misogyny is clear. Women are consistently discriminated against whether as a physician or a patient seeking medical care. We need to eradicate the social beliefs that minimize the quality of healthcare and that undermine the career aspirations of today’s women, whatever they may be.

With all due respect, sir, my affinity for sparkly necklaces does not in any way suggest that I lack the capability to be successful in my undergraduate education and beyond.

 

Brittany Pham is a second-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at brittaqp@uci.edu.