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Diary of an FY2 – #LikeALadyDoc

March 7, 2016

So here’s a thing that happened a few weeks ago.

Post-take ward round with the consultant surgeon coming off on-call (Let’s call him Mr Black). There’s the registrar, the other SHO (Let’s call her Linda) and me on his team, striding through the hospital like a pack of scalpel-wielding sharks. On the surface. I know I’m not a surgeon and I’ve made this fact known to most of the surgical team. Likewise, Linda has no desire to cut, slash and heal. In fact, we both hanker after a career in microbiology.

Mr Black knows this about us and has accepted us for who we are, not his kin but still part of his team. Because this consultant isn’t a hackneyed stereotype from days gone by. He comes off as stern at first but he’s fair and honest and not without a sense of humour. Mr Black’s a good surgeon – he knows when and when not to cut. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.

But I digress. Back to the ward round. As we stalk down the corridors of Worthwhile General, going from one ward to the next, he turns to me and mentions a good idea for an audit into perioperative antibiotics. It’s simple, should be quick and he offered help on getting it off the ground. I readily agree. A little later on, he mentions to me a patient with an uncommon abscess that might make for a good case report. Again, I agree and think “Great!”

However, something doesn’t sit right with me. Mr Black has offered me these after-school activities because he knows they’re relevant to my interests. But to Linda, who he knows shares those interests, he says…nothing. Not even the whiff of an audit.

After the ward round, everyone splits off to their own duties but I pull Linda aside and ask, “Was that a bit sexist?”

If you have to ask, the answer’s yes.

Getting publications and quality improvement projects under my belt is a real good way of getting ahead in medicine, and the reality is that having a senior colleague tip you onto these things is a real godsend. Medicine isn’t the Old Boys’ Club that it once was but the uncomfortable fact remains that it’s 2016 and I can get ahead of Linda by the virtue of my Y chromosome.

I offered to share the CV-boosting work with Linda as an incomplete penance for not speaking up for her on the ward.

It’s 151 years since Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the UK and doctors who are women are everywhere now. In January, #LikeALadyDoc and #ILookLikeASurgeon showed just how numerous they are, and how varied their careers are. But despite making up around 50% of doctors (and y’know, the population), they are still the scapegoats for all the NHS’ woes.

In 2014, Prof Meirion Thomas wrote in the Daily Mail that, after being trained at great taxpayer expense, women were more likely to quit medicine, go part-time and/or avoid the most demanding specialties. Women, he advised, need to “lean in.”

In 2015, Dr Max Pemberton wrote, again in the Daily Mail, that specialties over-represented by female doctors (Paediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology) were being crippled by the cumulative sum of part-time working and maternity leave. Medicine should be a vocation, women, and the harsh reality is that your patients need to your priority.

And this year, we’ve already had Dominic Lawson writing in the Times (Paywall) that again, female doctors are a poor investment, due to maternity leave, retiring early and not working weekends (?!) and are clearly contributing to the rising waiting times in A&E. Those pesky ovaries!

Are these problems the fault of women doctors? Or are these the fault of a healthcare service and a society that could see these problems coming for decades…and did nothing?

It’s 2016 and women doctors are simultaneously being overlooked and over-blamed. Despite making up ~50% of the workforce, woman are taking the rap for not adhering to the default setting – male – and employers are still left agog by their attempts to be actualised human beings rather than emotionally wrecked burnout husks.

I don’t think women are going to stop taking maternity leave anytime soon. And nor should they! Not only are women, on the whole, more compassionate doctors (and safer), their striving to reach the top/navigate training programmes/seek work-life balance/experience a portfolio career/or whatever other shape their goal may take is an example for all to follow, regardless on how many X and Y chromosomes Life dished out.  I believe that any real solution to Medicine’s “Women Problem” will result in a better deal for everyone. I am unsure how that will work out with the guillotine of the new contract for junior doctors about to fall…

But I know it doesn’t start with blaming women.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 8, 2016 12:43 pm

    WELL SAID! & articulately put gungadin !!!

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