When It's Assumed That You're the Cleaner, Not a Cardiologist: Gender Inequities Prevail

Michelle L. O'Donoghue, MD, MPH


October 26, 2020

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hi. This is Dr Michelle O'Donoghue, reporting for Medscape. As a woman in cardiology, I have to admit that until recently I did not give a great deal of thought to the sacrifices made by women in past decades that have helped open doors and pave the way for my career. I'd also been taking for granted that women and men might be treated the same way within this field, but I'm recognizing that inequities still exist. Certainly this extends beyond just sex alone; we obviously need to place more focus on differences in terms of race as well as ethnicity. But thinking particularly about the sex inequities that persist, I think we would all agree that there are indisputable facts, such as the continued underrepresentation of women within the field of cardiology and several of the interventional subspecialties and the continued inequity in terms of the pay gap.

Some of our male colleagues may not be as cognizant of the more subtle differences that women in cardiology face on a daily basis. Almost every time I walk into a patient's room with a group of house staff and am accompanied by a younger male colleague, the typical assumption is that the male physician is the attending physician. I know that many women share that experience. I've also had the opportunity to speak on many different panels or plenary sessions. I remember an opportunity where I walked up to be a discussant at a late-breaking clinical trials session and behind the stage there was the assumption that I was one of the assistants coming to help clean the coffee mugs. Quite literally I had coffee mugs put in my hands. More recently, I attended a session at an endocrine conference and thought there would be greater representation of women. But, yet again, the panel for the late-breaking clinical trials session was purely represented by men. When they introduced me, they accidentally called me "Mitchell" and then seemed quite genuinely shocked when a woman walked up to the podium, as though I had lost my way.

What accounts for some of these differences? The efforts that many have been making to improve the representation of women — as well as different racial and ethnic groups — on panels and advisory boards need to continue. I think it's all too common that the same invitation list gets recirculated over the course of several years. We need to work on change, and that is promoting gender diversity, racial diversity, and making sure that the careers of our younger colleagues are being promoted as well.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the women who have made the sacrifices that have allowed so many of us to have careers within this wonderful field. I appreciate all of the sacrifices that have been made by many. And I would like to make a call for action for those of us who are perhaps watching today to look critically at the microaggressions or subtle ways in which we treat certain groups differently and to think about ways to even the playing field. Because even in this day and age, while we may think that some of these disparities no longer exist, this year and this era have been really important for shining a spotlight on some of the differences that continue to need work.

I welcome any thoughts from any of the viewers. Again, I'd like to thank my female — and male — colleagues who have supported me along the way. Signing off for Medscape, this is Dr Michelle O'Donoghue.

Michelle O'Donoghue is a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and senior investigator with the TIMI Study Group. A strong believer in evidence-based medicine, she relishes discussions about the published literature. A native Canadian, Michelle loves spending time outdoors with her family but admits with shame that she's never strapped on hockey skates.

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