Double Standards in Medicine Won't Allow Me to 'Calm Down'

Diane M. Goodman, BSN, MSN-C, APRN


March 15, 2022

It is the month for remembrance related to women (International Women's Day), but have women really come that far in healthcare? I seem to be hearing more misogynistic comments than ever, and the worst, by far, is someone telling me to "calm down" when I am voicing an animated opinion.

To be succinct, I hate it.

Am I the only who believes this exhortation is incredibly insulting — a carryover from the days of cocktails, cigarettes, and Mad Men ruling the universe? Is my passion for nursing offensive, my enthusiasm for a project irritating, or is it that nursing is primarily a woman's field and men have yet to accept us into the fold? You tell me. For years I have put my time in, paid my dues, documented appropriately, and occasionally offered highly intelligent opinions. Yet I have still been asked to deliver coffee (truth).

Do not take this post as offensive. I always work collaboratively with male MDs and have throughout my career, but I believe female nurses have yet to find their voice. I choose to be myself. I am not "calm"; I was born with zest. Therefore, I hate to hear the C-word at work.

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines "calm" as: freedom from agitation, excitement, disturbance. This sounds more like what I pray for the citizens of Ukraine than an environment in healthcare, agreed?

The definition does not carry a gender component, yet it is often men who use the C-word in the workplace. They seem to use it casually, comfortable with the idea of asking women to lower both the decibel level and the passion for whatever topic is being discussed. Should we not discuss baby showers and weight loss fads in addition to mitochondria? We are not one-dimensional beings, so we should display all spheres of busy lives.

Am I wrong to feel this way?

Human beings want to be accepted and listened to with empathy and understanding. Yet, we also fear distressing discourse, and may elect to step away or ask that the conversation to be toned down before stress occurs. Is this why some in the workplace feel compelled to ask colleagues to be "calm"?

Unfortunately, my experience with authoritarian attitudes began years ago.

At the first facility where I became certified, I was the only NP, so I was a trailblazer, but I was also the subject of conceivably condescending conversations asking, "What exactly does an NP do"? I absorbed the comments and clarified when necessary.

Male physicians grew used to my presence, but nowhere was the scrutiny more apparent than in the lounge during lunch! I wished to be invisible, but alas that superpower eluded me. I kept a low profile, taking a bite of the complimentary salad/soup between phone calls. No one said anything to me directly, but I felt the stares.

The next NP that came on board fared much worse. She was informed that the computers "in front" were for MD use only. She was asked to move out of the very area where I returned patient calls. I realized the senior physicians who had refrained from voicing displeasure to me told her where she should complete her tasks while I was listening. They could have taken her aside for a private conversation, but they did not. A point was made.

No one had ever used the C-word if we giggled at our shared exhaustion or frustration at learning the ropes. They did not need to. The disapproval was palpable, and within 6 months, my newest NP friend was gone, terminated from her position. I stayed in the front, though, taking claim to new territory.

As a trailblazer, I still react poorly to being told to calm down. If a female colleague asks me, I may (possibly) acquiesce. But if it is a male physician, I will most likely frown, wondering why they believe I need to keep quiet.

Do nurses feel comfortable asking male physicians to chill if/when they share offensive jokes at work? Do we reprimand if they refer to our beloved patient as the "MRSA infection" down the hall? We typically keep mum, knowing we have not evolved to this point, not yet.

OK, it has not been all that long since we were expected to rise and relinquish a chair if MDs entered the nursing station. I understand. Trust me, I remember. I also remember the abuse (verbal and physical) and the years when MDs could fling a chart at a shaking nurse, and no one said anything. In many ways, we have evolved.

In light of March 8, International Women's Day, I want us to go further. I want us to be free to have unbridled conversations, full of passion, enthusiasm, angst, glee, sadness, reverence, whatever we are feeling. I want us to discuss as many baby showers as possible, within reason.

I want us to offer full vocal expression, with no one believing they have a right to tell us to calm down.

Then and only then I will know women in healthcare have arrived.

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About Diane M. Goodman
Diane M. Goodman, BSN, MSN-C, APRN, is a semi-retired nurse practitioner who contributes to COVID-19 task force teams and dismantles vaccine disinformation, as well as publishing in various nursing venues. During decades at the bedside, Goodman worked in both private practice and critical care, carrying up to five nursing certifications simultaneously. Yet she is not all about nursing. She is equally passionate about her dogs and watching movies, enjoying both during time away from professional activities. Her tiny chihuahuas are contest winners, proving that both Momma and the dogs are busy, productive girls!


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