Women Doctors: We Don't Need to Act Like Men 

Nisha Mehta, MD


February 03, 2020

By not asking for the things we need to be happy in our jobs or pushing for things such as gender pay parity or leadership positions, however, we actually limit career longevity and increase physician turnover. So many women in medicine end up cutting back significantly or leaving medicine because of this, when in fact there may have been a solution that worked for everyone involved had it been explored.

3. We think that asking for altered schedules or less than full-time schedules will make others think that we take our careers less seriously.

The reality is that many female physicians (and male physicians, for that matter) are in dual high-income families, and when options that allow work-life balance aren't present, they start viewing their options as binary: Work full-time or quit.

With today's physician shortages and increasing burnout, employers are starting to realize that they need to retain physicians and may be more willing to work with physicians on part-time options than one may think. Physician turnover is expensive, and systems are seeing that. Having an occasional day off can actually provide us with the time and energy to take care of our other responsibilities and leave us more focused and happy at work, which is better for efficiency while at work, patient satisfaction scores, and physician retention.

4. We gripe about patients and colleagues confusing us for other members of the healthcare team—assuming that women can't be physicians—but we don't speak up.

It's important to assert ourselves in these situations. It doesn't need to be confrontational, but it does need to be stated. If we don't speak up for ourselves, nobody else will. The more female physicians point out the shifting demographics in medicine, the more we shatter stereotypes about what a doctor looks like and educate people about what physicians need to thrive in today's landscape. This helps us with our individual practices, our marketing, and our opportunities for leadership and advocacy on behalf of our patients.

The more female physicians point out the shifting demographics in medicine, the more we shatter stereotypes about what a doctor looks like…

5. We come in from a minority mindset.

But the truth is, we're not. One of my favorite cartoons depicts a bunch of different shapes trying to get into a square hole labeled, "The System," and a square telling the shapes to mold themselves to get through. They reply, "Or how about you change the system so that we can fit?"

The truth is, medicine needs its women physicians. There was a physician shortage predicted long before burnout was on the rise and people were talking about changing physician demographics. With this change in demographics comes more women, more physicians with a "millennial"-type mentality toward work-life balance, and more dual-income families who have to balance family life and professional life.

All of these things lead to market forces where the supply and demand curves start favoring physicians. In an era where physicians feel disempowered, it's important for physicians to remember this shortage when approaching negotiations and their views of what is possible within the job market.

Every physician, and every physician family, is different, and no stereotype is uniformly applicable. The fact is, today's physician workforce is more diverse than prior generations in many aspects: gender, race, cultural norms, economics, relationships. Each of those things influences us on multiple levels, personally and professionally.

If we continue to make it difficult for physicians (of both genders) to lead fulfilling lives, more will cut back significantly or leave medicine. Women physicians are in a great place to take the lead and push for cultural change, flexibility in the physician workforce, and humanism in medicine.

It's time to recognize that women are no longer outliers in their medical school classes. Women physicians are certainly not alone anymore, but they do need more women mentors and leaders to create a supportive environment that encourages female physicians to embrace their respective strengths and needs.

Our unique characteristics affect our personal and professional goals and realities. And that's okay.

In fact, it's more than okay. That's how it should be. We should all be creating the life in medicine that we want, in a way that promotes career longevity. Ultimately, the best thing that we can do for our patients is to be ourselves, draw on our strengths, and practice medicine for as long as possible. That requires embracing our respective demographics and the realities that come with them.

Nisha Mehta, MD, is a radiologist based in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as a writer, speaker, and patient advocate.

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