I've been surprised since starting this blog how much support I've gotten from doctors. I've received private messages from doctors I've never met telling me that they see medical sexism as a problem and that it's great I'm shining a spotlight on it. I *never* thought that would happen.
That isn't to say, however, that I haven't gotten any pushback. One doctor said that while she understands the impetus behind this blog, she feels that it's akin to online mommy groups where members routinely and vitriolically question their doctors' recommendations, such as not co-sleeping. That one honestly got under my skin. The Academy of Pediatrics advises against co-sleeping. Thus, when a doctor recommends not to co-sleep, she is following the mandates of her profession, whether you agree with that position or not.* However, the stories shared here are not from women angry at doctors for sharing a medical consensus they don't want to hear. They're sharing stories of gross incompetence. Incompetence sometimes, but not always, brought about because of the patient's gender. This isn't a minor point. Every year thousands of women die because of disparate treatment. To act like these stories are a collection of whining women is unacceptable.
Another doctor told me that she didn't like the idea of her profession being disparaged because most doctors do their best for their patients. That view misses a crucial point. I don't think any but the most naive would suggest that doctors say to themselves, "I'm going to give worse care to women today." Instead, it's more likely that the unconscious biases we all carry around affect even doctors. Well, that combined with the fact that doctors are often taught in training to be on the lookout for hysterical women--especially in emergency rooms. So the bias isn't all unconscious, although it's largely unexamined.
That's why this blog is necessary. The medical profession won't change until doctors themselves see that there's a problem. Thankfully, that is beginning to happen. A group of doctors have formed the Sex and Gender Women's Health Collaborative whose focus is on integrating gender knowledge into medical education. They are even creating a National Sex & Gender Physician Registry where patients can find doctors committed to these issues. Sadly, there isn't a single doctor yet on the registry, but the organization is just beginning, so hopefully that won't be true much longer.
Moreover, the organization Movement is Life is dedicated to reducing health disparities in the area of musculoskeletal health. The co-chair of this organization, Doctor Mary I. O'Connor shared her thoughts on this issue on the Mayo Clinic blog. First she points out some unsettling statistics such as the fact that girls are 22 percent less likely to be placed on a kidney transplant list than boys. Or that women are 22 times less likely to have knee surgery recommended than men for moderate arthritis.
She concludes with this: "So should a woman have a female doctor? I don’t know, but I think that women need to make sure their doctor hears their voice. For those of us with husbands, it is easy to see how the differences in communication styles influence interpretations of conversations and subsequent actions. Make sure your doctor has a female ear" (emphasis mine).
So obviously there are some doctors who get it. And this is great because we need allies on the inside who can fight to make necessary changes. I want to personally thank all doctors who see this as a serious issue and who are fighting to ensure that all women get the medical care they need.
*Note: My husband and I safely co-sleep for a multitude of reasons so please don't make this blog post about your feelings about co-sleeping.