Thursday, January 12, 2017

Have you encountered assumptions/ prejudice/ racism/ sexism/ intolerance/ harassment/ discrimination at work?

Genmedmom here.

Let's talk about sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, and disability, and being judged by those things, in the workplace. Have you encountered assumptions/ prejudice/ racism/ sexism/ intolerance/ harassment/ discrimination at work? 

It's definitely an appropriate political climate to be discussing this issues. Even aside from the blistering rhetoric of the past year, let's face it, for many folks, a "real" doctor looks like Marcus Welby, M.D. You know, a white, gray-haired, suited man who exudes experience and wisdom. Not that there's anything WRONG with that...

These negative attitudes can manifest differently, and span a wide range of experiences. 

The way I see it, assumptions can be innocent. These can be sort of insulting things said by well-intentioned people. They may be based in inherent bias and unconscious attitudes. Like, for example...

How many times during residency training did I walk into a patient's room, and they assumed I was anyone BUT the doctor? I was asked to clear the cafeteria tray more than once. Even after introducing myself, I was often referred to as [insert non-M.D. staff title here] and asked to fetch things: a glass of water, blankets, a urinal.

Sometimes, those assumptions annoyed me, and I acted annoyed. Other times, I tried to be cheerful and helpful regardless. I have also been guilty of making assumptions about others, and have had to retrieve my Dansko-clad foot from my mouth...

Then, there are more obviously negative/ hurtful/ damaging experiences.

During residency, a senior physician (a Marcus Welby type) whom I respected greatly and had been working with for some time chose a younger, more inexperienced, pretty unreliable male trainee to lead an endeavor that I had been interested in leading. Oh, that hurt. I wondered and fretted, Why didn't he choose me? What secret glee I felt when the young lad never followed through, and the project collapsed! Karma, man. Karma.

A woman I trained with had a miscarriage, and the supervising physicians would not allow her any time off. It was a first trimester loss. "Think of it like a heavy period," they said. "Would you call out for that?"

What I observed throughout all of my medical training was that women received very little understanding, consideration, or flexibility during pregnancy, maternity leave, or breastfeeding. The prevailing attitude was "suck it up, buttercup."

Then, I remember as a fellow, when I was interviewing everywhere for jobs. I was singled out by a senior physician (Yup, Welby again) for being half Latina. I was asked to take on a faculty position in part "because then we'll be closer to meeting the requirements for minority recruits. You can really help the department to look more inclusive. That'll be such a bonus."

That felt weird. I did not take the position.

In that job search almost ten years ago, I sought out a flexible position in a positive environment at a progressive institution, and I am satisfied that I found all of that and then some. The few negative experiences I had prior definitely informed my decision, and helped me to recognize what I didn't want as an attending.

I'm aware that many of you have had much worse and many more negative experiences than I did, and I'm wondering:

What did you encounter?

How did you manage, supercede, overcome?

What did you learn from the experience?

Do you see things getting better, or worse?


  1. I can't possibly list them all here. The most debilitating, for me, have not been the overt statements of sexism. It's the difference in expectations of behavior for women and men. I am outspoken and I'm from New York, and I practice in an area that expects a certain amount of deference from women. Men can lose their tempers or snap at people or behave as if they know everything and no one says a word. Women do it...and we are censured.

    1. Ugh yes. Totally. The stronger a woman is, the bigger a b-tch she is considered. So unfair. Do you see this changing anytime soon? Any factors you think would push progress?

    2. Yes, I am also from the Northeast and have gotten feedback which boils down to, essentially, smile more. I am an even keeled person but not much of a extrovert, and I work in a setting where we deal with some pretty heavy issues. Yet, I feel like I have to walk around all day with a giant smile plastered on my face at all times or I'm going to get in trouble. Meanwhile, the male physicians can even snap at people or be short, never mind not smiling, and it's just shrugged off.

    3. Yes- the expectations for women in the workplace: If they are smart, they also need to be humble; strong, but also deferential; confident, but also reeaalllly sweet; attractive, but not sexy.... It's too much.

  2. I think the more appropriate question is: How have I NOT encountered sexism/discrimination in the workplace. It is implicit, cultural, ubiquitous. One of my laziest male resident counterparts quipped about my maternity leave: "So nice you are getting extra vacation." No. While you were on vacation, I was saving mine for the hardest, most important job of my life.
    That's one example of many, but it does us no good to stay bitter. I think this is changing, although the current political climate seems to belie that. Pushing progress means not being satisfied with settling in the norm - our expectations as Jay said above. We have to break out of our cultural expectations. Push the envelope. March, do, and act for the future, for our children.

    1. OMG maternity leave was so freaking hard. I cut mine short and went back to work early because work's way easier. I would have slugged that creep. I agre that these attitudes are changing. Men as equal parenthood partners helps a great deal. Hard for a guy to sniff at maternity leave if he's had to care for an infant solo for a good stretch of time.

    2. It's not even just the infant care, but the actual physical recovery on top of it, to make it more realistic for men.

  3. Also wanted to mention I am reading The Curse of the Good Girl - Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence by Rachel Simmons for school mom book club. It helps identify how we set this up in our own girls and how to break out of it. Halfway through and loving it so far.

  4. As I tell my friends, a female physician has to be so much better than their male counterparts to be heard and respected because society is only starting to appreciate our communication styles, our voices, and our hard work to keep it together.

    I've had to play the quiet and sweet intern because the nurses would call the "mean" interns for ridiculous issues in the middle of the night, i.e. Enema order. When I told my male attending this story, he said he's yelled at them for this. The male interns who are decent or cute get the female staff to bend to their will and don't give them any protests when they're rude. I think part of the problem is women not supporting other women.

    Being an attending now, I make an effort to talk about the balance as a mother and a physician to our male and female residents. The more they hear, I hope they understand and can be supportive of another. I've told them if they have an issue with the culture or have a family issue, that family comes first and as co-workers we need to support that. Burn out is real when we don't feel supported.

  5. I am applying to medical school in June, and attended a panel recently where I had the chance to speak to the (female) dean of admissions one on one. I intended to ask how to include my role as a parent in my application and whether I should? In my mind, being a parent and having given birth makes me infinitely more mature, committed, and self-actualized--just the traits sought by this particular school. Her knee jerk reaction, though, was to tell me NOT to mention being a parent and to hide the fact that I have kids because, "There is still a stigma." She said, "people will think What are you going to do if your kid gets sick? Are you going to miss school?

    I was a little horrified at this response, coming from a progressive medical school that is listed on one blog I saw as family friendly.

    Why should I hide the fact that I'm a parent, when that is a very large part of my identity! They are encouraging applicants to be transparent, honest, show their true self in the essay...


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