Dr. Sadiya Khan, RMO, Bangalore

Dr. Sai Lavanya Patnala, Intern, Apollo Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Hyderabad, India

Gone are the days when men dominated the medical field and we would rarely see female doctors. The trend has drastically shifted in the last two decades where a greater percentage of women compared to men are enrolling into medical and nursing schools. Women across the globe are breaking stereotypes and making various specialty choices beyond just Obstetrics-Gynaecology. Despite the changing trends, there are implicit biases that lead to underrepresentation of women in leadership positions, and slower advancement in their medical careers. Here are some of our experiences as female medical students –

“Our college, like most colleges in India, has the tradition of electing class representatives at the beginning of the year. During my first week in medical school, we found out that one male representative and one female representative were elected and that they would be called CR (stands for class representative) and LR (stands for ladies’ representative). Our batch consisted of a larger proportion of female students than males. It felt ironic that someone who represents a majority of the class is being called LR instead of CR. The then “LR” of our senior batch strongly spoke against the use of the term. Both of us had actively vocalized that it was time to retire its usage. When I noticed some of the senior professors being used to the terms CR and LR, I realized how deeply ingrained this tradition was. Over the years, some of my peers would refer to me as “LR” in-between banter and some professors called me “LR” aloud in class. Although we could never correct senior faculty, we made sure this attitude changed among the students and the batches that came after us.”

“Most female medical students and even doctors get mistaken for nurses and are referred to as “sister” by the patient and his family despite wearing the same coats as our male counterparts. This has nothing to do with the role of nurses but the fact that it is valid for us to expect to be referred to by the right title and not have the need to explain ourselves all the time. To change this trend, we made sure we corrected them each time and also got our male colleagues to do the same which made a huge difference.”

“My final years at medical school threw light on the subtle disparities seen between female and male interns. I noticed how there was favouritism towards male interns especially evident in female-dominated departments and sometimes, the faculty is much nicer to them. One can assume by this that females might be shown favouritism in male-dominated departments but, I have noticed male interns bonding over sports and matches with male senior residents/ professors and having a friendship with them outside of work as well. These subtle differences made me realise that indeed the work environment is not the same for men and women.”

“Women in medicine are also given unsolicited advice to choose a specialty that takes less time, and which is less strenuous even though they might not have expressed their interests in that specialty.”

“In our daily interactions with senior residents and professors, I noticed their encouragement towards the male interns to take up surgical branches whereas, female interns are largely discouraged by telling them all the “problems” they would be facing.”

While there is an increasing number of female medical students, there is still a smaller proportion of them choosing male-dominated specialties, especially the surgical branches. In fields where gender imbalances persist, our unique perspectives, empathy, and skill sets bring invaluable contributions to patient care and research, enriching the healthcare community. We must persist in breaking barriers and defying stereotypes that inspire not only our peers but also future generations of women in healthcare.

It is important to seek female mentors and allies, and never hesitate to speak up. Women should also openly talk about these issues with their male colleagues to educate them and make them aware of their unconscious bias. Male doctors should also be encouraged to stand up for their female colleagues when they notice any discriminatory treatment.

To all aspiring medical students and remarkable women in healthcare, we would like to acknowledge your courage, resilience, and dedication in pursuing your passion despite the challenges you may face. We hope you know that you belong in every room, every discussion, and every opportunity that comes your way. The world needs our brilliance, compassion, and leadership now more than ever.

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