National Women Physician's Day Part 2
Feb 3, 2017 was declared as the first annual National Women Physician's Day--coinciding with the birthday of Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female physician to receive her medical degree in the United States. Why is she important? She was a forerunner to the rest of us in medicine.
When I graduated from residency in 2006, I thanked all my attendings but I made sure to especially thank the strong female attendings who served as wonderful role models and teachers to me during my training. Why? Because medicine, even in pediatrics, is still a male dominated world.
Some of you may be confused--yes, there are many female pediatricians. And, yes, where I trained there were many more female residents, even though in my class we were split 50/50. However, there were a lot of male attendings who were in leadership roles. And while I learned a lot from many of them, there were a few female attendings who particularly stood out to me. Dr. Dutt, who I consider my mentor throughout residency and the last ten years, Dr. Singh who has a brilliant mind and still intimidates the heck out of me, Dr. Nugent for her strong clinical skills and personable nature, Dr. Clark who I always remember for her strong teachings about patients who may have gender confusion due to conflicting chromosomes, hormones and genitalia, and many, many more.
I do regret that I forgot to thank my patients--especially my chronic patients, who I had the privilege and honor of taking care of. One of my classmates, thankfully, did not forget them.
The funny thing? On the Monday after our graduation ceremony, one of my male attendings called me out for forgetting to thank the nurses. Was I grateful to them? Of course I was. I've learned many things from many nurses over the years, especially when I was a resident. But I was NOT the only one who did not mention them. In fact, out of my graduating class of 16, only my colleague who remembered to thank our patients mentioned the nurses. So why did he single me out? Because I thanked his female colleagues by name?
Of course that's why. He may not have even noticed it--that's how deeply our biases run in our subconsciousness. And he, among many of our male attendings, were named and thanked among our speeches. Why single me out? Again, because I focused on the women.
Let me tell you something about female physicians. Not only do we work as hard as our male counterparts during med school and residency, but we also have to do so with stigma and biases formed against us. I can tell you there were numerous times when my patients thought that I was the nurse and not the doctor. I'm sure my male co-residents never encountered that. And many times when I had seen the male residents being praised for being efficient when the female counterparts were threatened with failure for not fully participating in a rotation. (Yes, I was not biased as I'm not talking about ME, but rather about a few residents I oversaw in my brief stint in a neonatology fellowship.)
When I was interviewing for residency, I met an older female physician who was one of the few female physicians in her graduating class at UCLA. How I wish I remembered her name because I would love to interview her now about her experiences.
When I was a resident, one of my colleagues recommended House of God for me to read. I've never read a more misogynistic book. I think I fell just short of throwing it across the room. And I love books! All I kept thinking about was the time when the book was written--sometime in the 1970s...the same time as when my mom was a resident. My mom immigrated to this country to do her residency after finishing medical school in the Philippines. She did her internship in Ohio, and then did her residency in Boston. At one of the hospitals that she worked at, she didn't even have a call room--she had to bunk up with the nurses because there were no call facilities for female physicians! I could just imagine the environment she had to work in, not only as a female physician, but as a foreign grad.
So when I saw that it was National Women Physician's Day, my first thought was "Why have I never heard about this before?" Well, this year is its inaugural year. And maybe there wasn't enough media about it--which I'm not surprised about with everything else going on in this country. My next thought was: it's about time.
On this first National Women Physician's Day (though it's a week later), I would like to honor my mother. Now that I'm an adult, I can fully appreciate the obstacles she went through in order to become what she always wanted to be: a physician. And while there are many qualities that I can praise in my parents, one thing I admire in both of them is their perseverance in attaining exactly the life they wanted for themselves, for their children, and for their grandchildren.
I grew up visiting my mom in her clinic, and always, ALWAYS, at least one of her patients would pull us aside just to tell us what a wonderful doctor my mom was. My mom's care went beyond simply caring for her patient 's chief complaint, she cared for each person as a whole person, and it showed. In fact, I did a rotation with my mom the summer before she retired, and because I was in between my 1st and 2nd years in medical school, I was merely shadowing her. Many patients asked when I would be finished with med school. Even though she worked for Kaiser, they were so hopeful that I would be taking over her practice. Alas, that didn't happen--whereas my mom trained in Internal Medicine and took care of adults, I was always meant to be a pediatrician.
Thank you, Mommy, for your wonderful example as a mother and as a physician. I love you.
(The picture posted above is my mom with Mini Me and my niece, Piggie. Posted with permission.)