Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Teaching Moment

Genmedmom here. This was going to be a sweet little post about a teaching experience from my clinic yesterday. A patient presented with a classic clinical finding, and I knew that one of the other providers had a few students with them. So I asked the patient if I could bring in a student or two, and she cheerfully assented. It's been a very long time since I was involved in clinical instruction, and I enjoyed it.

I searched the web for a photo image or clip art to accompany this piece, something that illustrated a female doctor teaching medicine to students. I typed in all sorts of search phrases, but the vast majority of clipart or stock photos clearly depicting a doctor instructing medical students showed male doctors- and often with a lovely nurse standing by.

The best approximation of a female teaching physician that I could find was this (*and, this image is totally copyright of Disney Junior):

I mean, it's a good thing that Doc McStuffins exists, and that this image and the DVD it advertises exist. Not to imply a commercial plug; I must emphasize, I have no financial disclosures here! I just love the example she sets for little girls, all the pink and purple notwithstanding. She's a doctor, and her mom is too. They're African-american. The show is a hit. It's awesome.

So, why was this the only image I can find of a female doctor actively teaching medicine to students? This was mind-boggling to me. I needed to understand. I needed data to interpret; it's just my research fellowship training.

And I found data. According to the Kaiser Foundation, there are 893,851 practicing physicians in the United States, and 32% of those are women. The American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) has published a detailed breakdown of U.S. medical faculty, by rank, sex, race/ethnicity and specialty. Per their data for 2014 (which can be found at The AAMC website Reports page):

Of the 155,089 total U.S. medical faculty, 62% are male and 31% are female.

Of those that are at the higher ranks, as in professor or associate professor, 72% are male and 28% are female.

The breakdown by race/ ethnicity is frankly depressing, and I didn't even want to figure it out. For those of you that enjoy crunching numbers, have at it- there's tons of other good data in there as well.

It's clear that we need more women physician role models and teachers of medicine. So, what are the obstacles?

Well, in my case.... When I started by current position at a major academic medical center, I was involved in a medical school course geared towards fostering empathy and communication skills. I think every med school has these now, Patient/Doctor/Society type courses. But then I became pregnant with Babyboy, and realized I would be out on maternity leave for a chunk of the next session, so I never signed back up. Now, with two very young kids and enough to balance as it is, I'm not sure I want to take on the added responsibility of teaching...Not just right now.

I know my kids will get older, and I hope to get involved with teaching again someday. Likewise with medical volunteer work. I'm half Latina, I speak Spanish, and I've lived and worked in Latin America. At some point, I'd like to get re-involved in that work, as well as be a mentor for Latina students...Someday.

Meantime, I very much enjoyed interacting with our students over a case of erythema multiforme this week.

I'm curious what the doctor-moms out there think of these numbers. Do we need more female physicians teaching medicine? How about female minority physicians teaching medicine? And what do others think about Doc McStuffins?


  1. Dear Genmedmom,
    You ask some very useful - and difficult - questions.
    Last week I was working in the Emergency Department and saw a colleague I formerly knew when we were both residents. I asked what was new with him - he replied that his fourth child, born four days earlier, was new! We laughed that he came to work to escape the chaos at home. But I got to thinking - how different would that moment have been if he were a she? And the broader question - is it motherhood that holds us back from the positions you describe? And if so, is that a bad thing? An expected thing? A normal thing?
    I am answering your questions with questions:-)
    Yes I would have loved to have had more female mentors and teachers- but moreover, I would have loved to have had more female mentors who were mothers. I would have loved to have more male mentors who openly supported female physicians who are mothers. Unfortunately, many men I trained under complained openly about women residents / physicians going on maternity leave - as did quite a few women. There is still a culture of expectations in medicine whereby I see male doctor with children = normal, expected, valued in society and female doctor with children = risky colleague, not pulling her weight, bad mother etc. Of course it's not 100% as polarized as I describe and there are many positive examples to the contrary, but in general, I think society still enforces those roles pretty strongly. As this hopefully changes, I expect that the number of women we will see in mentorship / teaching roles will gradually increase as well.
    Personally, I have experienced burnout and I don't ever want to go back there. That is what holds me back from taking on more roles/ duties, including teaching (even though like you, I love to teach!). Perhaps my willingness to take on more will change over time.

  2. Thanks MDH, I agree with your assessment on society and medical culture in general: clearly a double standard exists, and there's a long way to go towards equality on the workplace. I'm very lucky to have landed in an academic medical center where there are actually oodles of doctor-moms, many of whom are in the higher ranks of education and administration. I know that's not common, especially outside of primary care. Like you, I am very wary of burnout. I'm not hurrying to take on more responsibilities… But, someday, I do hope to be a more direct mentor to our young women coming up the ranks. For now, I hope that sharing my day-to-day experiences "counts" as being a doctor-mom role model! Or, at least an example...


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