I’m standing in the Trauma Bay with my heart racing, anticipating the arrival of a gunshot wound victim. Although I’m in my fourth year of residency, an incoming trauma activation still feels as thrilling as it did intern year. Before the arrival of our patient, one of the ER nurses performs a timeout and identifies the members of the treatment teams. She looks at my male attending and calls his name, after which her eyes move right past me as she mentions the other members of the trauma team by name, including the physician assistant and the intern. The patient rolls in shortly after, and my name has not made it to the activation record, even though I am the senior resident.
I know it’s a bold assumption to make that I am often overlooked based on my ethnicity and gender, but it’s hard to not make this conclusion. Time and time again, I am not recognized as a physician – but am called a nurse, a lab tech, or occasionally even a housekeeper. While every role is valuable and is essential for the hospital to function smoothly, it still stings to not be recognized as a member of the treatment team when I am working 80-hour weeks and committing myself tirelessly to my patients. My female colleagues face similar situations, but it seems to be magnified in my case. Could this be due to my naturally quiet nature and short stature? Absolutely. But has this problem lessened over the past 4 years even after I’ve found my voice and built confidence in my clinical decision making? Not a bit.
I worry that I find myself in this situation so often because there are no other Latina residents or faculty members in the department of surgery at my hospital, despite our location in a city with a large Hispanic community. While my small frame and long black hair are similar to the appearance of many of the nurses rather than any of the surgeons, I am still frustrated by the biases I experience every day. I can admittedly understand why others might simply assume my role based on appearance, but I also strongly feel that this is a stereotype worth overcoming.
I know that one of the most important solutions is on the large-scale, i.e. increasing diversity amongst all healthcare providers. However, I also know that I need to do my part as well – both for future Latina providers and for my patients. I should not – and I will not – stand in silence and be ignored. I will correct and remind people a thousand times if I have to. At the end of the day, my patients are the top priority – and their care is likely to be compromised if I am not recognized as a key member of the treatment team. I am proud to be a Latina surgeon, and I will not be overlooked.
The author of this article is a general surgery resident with an interest in trauma and critical care. She wishes to remain anonymous, as her objective in writing this article is to call attention to an important issue faced by numerous individuals in healthcare, not just her.
Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.