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Women in Medicine – Working Together for Change

By March 31, 2019 No Comments

By: Natasha Sriraman

Indian, American. Immigrant, Culture. Sexism, Racism. Wife, Mother, Physician.
These labels, these titles have been, and continue to be such a prominent part of my
life. They define me., like many, were pushed by their immigrant parent to always work
hard and to be the best. There is always an assumption, that being Indian, automatically
defined me in certain ways. Although I am a physician, married to another Indian
physician, my road was definitely not linear, but quite circuitous. As an Indian, as a
female, I have faced both racism and sexism.
It is not always easy to be a woman in medicine. First and foremost, like in many
professions, there is a wage/salary gap based on gender. I have often hear, both in the
press and on an individual level, that women physicians get paid less since they do not
work as hard as their male counterparts and choose to see fewer patients. There is also
the viewpoint that women get paid less since female doctors “can” work part-time since
the male is usually the breadwinner of the family. These views are not only incorrect but
also are not supported by data.
First, let’s debunk the myth that men and women are paid equally. I, personally, have
had this conversation with administrators at institutions where I’ve worked, and they
simply did not believe me.
The Wall Street Journal looked at Census Bureau Data over 5 years and found that male
doctors, working full-time made $210,000, while women physicians made 64% less
($135,000). And it is not only in the medical field, in fact, the study showed that other
occupations that required higher education (financial advisors, compensation managers,
judges) had large gender wage gaps, as well.
Next, it has been said that women physicians don’t work as hard. Whether we work full-
time or part-time, let’s clarify something. We are working more hours than most male
physicians. I have done it all while having 3 kids within 5 years: full-time, part-time and
stay-at-home mom. As someone married to a critical care intensivist physician, I
changed my career path when my kids were younger.
As many working women can attest to, none of us work “just” part-time. Instead we are
working 2, maybe 3 jobs when you add in managing the household, kids, spouse,
cooking and cleaning. Studies show that when we take time off/cut hours to take care of
young children, women with higher education (graduate degrees) miss out on full-time
benefits while being hurt more by this salary penalty.
A recent NY Times article shows that even though there are more women earning
college degrees (and entering medical school, for that matter), the number of women in
the labor force has plateaued since the 1990’s. Why? Because despite our higher
education, motherhood is a constant juggling act and, is in fact, much harder than
expected. Also, many women felt that returning to our career was ‘not good’ for the
child/family and thus, stepped back to care for their family. While women continue do
to more paid work, studies show that men have not increased their childcare and
housekeeping to the same extent, exacerbating the mismatch of managing a household.
This study didn’t address the judgment among women, that many female physicians
face, when we work long hours and often are away nights and weekends, and can miss
family events. When I was torn about returning to fellowship when my first born was only 6 months old, I was told: “good mothers don’t work” and “I don’t know how you
can leave your own child to take care of other kids.”
Next, let’s address the lack of maternity leave and the lack of family-friendly policies in
the United States. While breastfeeding support and maternity leave has slowly
improved, the United States is severely lagging behind. In fact, we are 1 of only 5
nations, the ONLY developed nation, that does not provide paid maternity leave.
Finally, let me address our skills and the quality of care we provide as women
physicians. A recent study of almost 600,000 cardiac patients showed that those who
were treated by a female doctor received better care and had lower mortality rates.
Another study showed that patients treated by a female physician were less likely to be
readmitted to the hospital, and also had lower mortality rates.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins showed that female primary care doctors spent more
time listening to their patients than their male counterparts. Male physicians interrupt a
patient within 47 seconds to redirect them, while female physicians waited an average
of 3 minutes before interrupting the patient. But this increased time comes with a cost.
Since we spend more time with patients, we are frequently running behind which
translates into a longer day. And in the era of medical care dictated by administrators
and insurance companies, those physicians who see more patients and bill more are the
ones who are rewarded.
As women physicians, we have come together to address these ill-informed comments
from an unprofessional colleague. But we continue to fight the inequity we face in the
workplace. And it doesn’t affect just physicians. Women in other professions are also
adversely affected. We also need the support of our male colleagues to address wage
transparency because unlike other industries, the medical profession doesn’t openly
discuss salaries. Only then can we, as women physicians, become proactive about
negotiating salaries.
It is not only about extra income, it is about eliminating an unconscious bias that exists
in medicine. While Women’s Rights are front and center within the political and
legislative realm, we have to continue to focus on the work that needs to be done.
Whether it’s wage discrimination, sexual harassment or the paucity of maternity-leave
policies, our voices are much stronger when we all work together, physicians in different
specialties, women from different careers.
‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’ ~Helen Keller

Dr. Natasha Sriraman is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School, researcher, and mother of three. Her main areas of research include breastfeeding, postpartum depression, immigrant health care and health disparities. She has spoken nationally on breastfeeding and postpartum depression and published extensively on these topics. Natasha sits on the Board of Directors of Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) and is Chair of the Education Committee. She has previously served as Education Chair for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Section on Breastfeeding and on the Board of Directors of Postpartum Support Virginia and advocates nationally for postpartum depression screening within the pediatric setting. When not working, Natasha enjoys running, yoga, boxing, traveling, and reading. She lives in Virginia with her husband, three kids, and dog.

Find Natasha here:

Instagram: @natasha.mom.MD

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