A Stealth Misconception

13 Sep 2019

By Monica Farrulla

Five years have elapsed since I took the Hippocratic oath and was bestowed the highly-coveted “MD” (Medical Doctorate) to follow my name. In these years of training I have experienced an almost-immeasurable number of emotions and I have pushed my body to its physical limits. The medical profession is relentless and there is never a paucity of sick patients in need of help. Through it all, in spite of the not-so-good days, I have come home feeling privileged and honored to have helped, and if lucky, to have cured someone in need. After all, helping other people was my reason for becoming a physician.

The other day while casually perusing through my Facebook, I came across a post from a co-resident who was responding to an article that spoke on the topic of medical profession and family planning. Intrigued by her strong reaction to this article, I decided to read it myself. In an instant, I comprehended her outrage as I found myself echoing her exact sentiments. In brief, the article suggests that electing medicine, in comparison to other professions, is the new gateway for women to have a profession and a family, as it demands less work hours and allows for more flexibility.

Quite frankly, I was insulted by a multitude of statements and suppositions in this article, but I will address only three of these as they stood out the most. First, it states that women pick some subspecialties because they allow for flexibility, fewer work hours and more control of their schedule, whereas jobs in law and business have less of these advantages. I must respond that picking a specialty merely because of fewer work hours and improved control is not exclusive to medicine. Any professional can elect to quit and pursue an alternate profession that entails a better life style and less work hours. Someone that foregoes doing a specialty in oncology for geriatrics, as exemplified in the article, is merely quitting one job for another. The assumption implies that electing to pursue a career in medicine should not be about vocation or passion, but instead, should be based first and foremost on offered benefits. Second, it states that women are paid proportionately, which is a blatantly false statement. Even if the article was only speaking in context of hourly remuneration for so-called “shift work in medicine,” the pay gap between male and female physicians, as per a U.S. News report from 2018, is eighteen and thirty-six percent for general practitioners and specialty physicians, respectively. The fight for eliminating gender gaps in medicine is far from over. Third, the author implies that the increased number of women in medicine is due to closing gender gaps secondary to a move towards a shift-work model, which results in decreased schedule variability and increase in control. This asseveration probably proves to be the most egregious of all. I am presently in my sixth year of postdoctoral training and I can tell you for a fact that the female colleagues I have met in my ten years of medical training did not pick medicine because they viewed it as the professional means to a personal end. Quite the opposite, many of them were conflicted by the implications their professional life would have on their personal one. Having graduated from a medical class that was nearly fifty percent women and a surgical residency class that was one-hundred percent females, I can attest that the reason for more women in medicine is a mere reflection of changing times and not of closing gender gaps exclusive to medicine. Across the board, there are more women in the workforce today and in traditionally male-dominated fields than there were during my grandmother’s era. I would contend that the increasing proportion of female physicians with families has to do with an overall increase in the number of female physicians as well as a changing paradigm regarding social norms that expect only women to sacrifice professionally in order to stay home and raise the child/children.

The journey towards becoming a physician is paved with arduous sacrifice and selfless endless hours of work. The years dedicated and debt incurred to achieve this honor and privilege is often overlooked by those far removed from the profession. This article reminded me how many misconceptions there exist about physicians, why I chose to be a surgeon and the sacrifices I had to make to get here. I believe medicine to be a profession that requires unending dedication and sacrifice because we are caring for a human being, whom irrespective of work hours and schedules, comes home with you at the end of the day. Shortchanging the lifelong oath we took when we became physicians and selling it as an easy option towards having a job and a family is upsetting and disrespectful. Women’s rights have come a long way, but the fight will need to continue until women in all professions are encouraged to pursue the career of their dreams without it being at the expense of their personal aspirations.

Dr. Monica Llado-Farrulla

Dr. Monica M. Llado-Farrulla recently started her plastic surgery training at the University of Pennsylvania after graduating from Tulane University’s general surgery program. She was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Monica pursued her undergraduate studies at Boston College where she obtained a Bachelor’s in Biology and Chemistry. She subsequently returned to Puerto Rico to receive her MD from the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine. Monica loves spending time with her pets, woodworking, car mechanics, and exploring new restaurants. You can find her on Twitter at @MFarrulla_MD.

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.

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