By Maisie Hands
I dread the question that plagues the undifferentiated medical student – “what are you going to specialise in when you finish?” I have been asked this countless times by doctors, patients, friends and family. Each time I reply with the same response of not having had enough clinical experience of the specialties to make a decision.
However, as a female student, this question is often followed with a second question. “What about general practice/ radiology/ any-other-9-to-5-specialty? It would be family friendly, and you could take time off to have kids.” This frustrates me, as often the person asking knows little to nothing about me, my priorities and whether I even plan on having kids! This is a conversation that is all too familiar to female medical students, and professional women more broadly, yet is seldom asked of men.
From my own personal experience, I, along with my female peers, have been treated differently based on our gender. I have had that surgical bedside tutorial where the consultant would not make eye contact with us or address us directly with a question, instead focussing his attention on the guys in my group. Female students are frequently called “girls” by both other staff and patients, and I have had many patients apologise for their language or discussing more personal medical issues because “in front of a girl” – an attitude which undermines female health professionals. Whilst most of my clinical experience has been positive interactions with staff and patients, in 18 months I already have seen many examples of women being treated differently to men.
There is also the common assumption that the female medical student is a nurse, a mistake that rarely occurs for guys. Just look at how the public reacted to the announcement of the 13th Doctor – “Nurse Who”, because she was a woman!
Over half of medical students in Australia are female, yet by the time doctors reach their early 30s, less than half of doctors are female . This massive drop out can, at least in part, be attributed to the difference in how men and women doctors are treated and experience the workplace. While it can be difficult to influence how we are treated as medical students, we can control how we treat each other. The subtle, everyday occurrences of discrimination need to be identified and acknowledged, so that we can support and stand up for each other.
We can all help to address the subtle differences in how we are treated based on gender, race, age and sexual orientation by acknowledging when bad behaviour happens and challenging it. We can only change things by acknowledging they still happen.