In the past 35 years, the number of women applying to medical school has increased greatly – in 1982 – 1983 the percent of women applicants was about 32.7 which has spiraled to an upwards of 50.8% in 2003 – 2004. It’s no secret that women have been increasingly more prevalent in the medical fields, but what caused them to occur in such low numbers in the past?
Women in science have always faced an uphill battle. Even though women in medical school outnumber men, they still rarely are chosen for leadership positions. There was even a case for Diana W. Bianchi, who is now the Natalie V. Zucker Professor of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology at Tufts School of Medicine, who was asked by a male admissions officer during her application interviews “Why should I admit you? You’ll just have a baby and drop out.” That is one stigma that can never be placed on men, and should never be placed on women. It’s hard for me to understand why people find it so difficult to believe that women can be just as successful as men – sometimes it really just takes a woman’s touch.
Do you ever have the notion that you feel a female physician may be able to understand your condition a little better and make you feel more comfortable? Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor, had an ill friend who claimed she would have coped better if she’d had a “lady doctor.” That was the driving point for Blackwell to forge her way through medical school, even as a disadvantaged applicant. She applied for admission to four medical colleges after moving to America, but was rejected by all. She had one professor even tell her she could probably be accepted if she disguised herself as a man. It is utterly shameful that anyone would tell a women she needs to be seen as a man to achieve a degree in medicine. Even after acceptance to Geneva College, Blackwell faced criticism from other women in the community who considered her to be an outlier in the field. It befuddles me that women would discourage another woman from such great achievements. I do understand that this was a different era, but it still is hard for me to grasp the idea of shaming someone for being the first to accomplish such an extravagant goal.
Going into medicine is no easy task, that is to understood, but personally I have met people on both ends of the spectrum of support. Often times when I say I am pursuing a degree as a physician I am encouraged by those around me, but I have had people ask me “Why don’t you become a nurse?” or “Wouldn’t being a dentist be more suitable for a woman? You’ll have more time for your children and family that way.” Now not to say that being a nurse wouldn’t be a great success, but the way people say those things implies that nursing just isn’t as respectable of a career, which, to me, is completely wrong. Also, assuming I will need more time for my children and family puts emphasis on the fact that people expect women to be at home raising children, and not successful in their careers. According to Carl Bianco, MD, there are three cornerstones of a successful career in medicine: A love for learning in general, a true intellectual curiosity about medicine in particular, and a strong desire to help others. So who is to say that a woman can’t have those three qualities – it really isn’t too far-fetched to think a women doesn’t have to want children and a family; we can have other goals in life. What are your goals in life?
I am particularly curious what opinions you, as readers, have on the matter. Why should it be so difficult for women to achieve success as a physician? If they are able to attain the same levels of education and understanding as men, then why should society place more of a weight on them? It’s hard for me to grasp that in 2015 there are still so many inequalities and that those capable of performing the same job should be held back and face more obstacles simply because of their gender.