Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Hello all, excuse this interruption from my regularly scheduled programming to talk about an article that really touched a nerve with me today.

I was referred to this via the Sneetch Blog, and I believe she found a similar reactionary blog here. The article is a New York Times Op-Ed about the rate of female doctors who are leaving the profession or going part-time (link here). The author has a strong opinion that women who leave the profession are doing both a disservice to the profession, but also to their patients. I won't do anymore summarizing, but I encourage you to read the article.

I am lucky enough to work with, and be friends with, several very smart, very educated ladies. I also will say that I'm lucky to read the blogs of an even wider variety of incredible women and men in the science and medical professions. While my reaction isn't as strong as Dr. Isis's, something about this article really touched a nerve.

These are the summaries of my thoughts, and this is really for myself. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and please read the article if you have time. It's awfully thought provoking.

1) The author states that, upon entering the medical profession after a residency and years of education, the doctor is in fact indebted to the tax payers who paid to train them and should not consider leaving the profession or only practicing part-time to be fulfilling their debt.
---I really feel that the same could be said for anyone who went to public school and received state or federal financial aid. I know many women, some in the sciences, who never pursued a career after undergraduate and stayed home with their children. I do not find an educated woman to be a waste, especially since she is likely passing down the value of education to her children, as well as educating them and helping them become more productive members of society. While doctors have spent more time on their education, and thus more money, that doesn't mean that they aren't contributing to society from that role as mothers, rather than professional doctors. If we're going to start counting debt, I'd like it to be a broader approach. Let's talk about all the men and women who have left their trained professions to stay at home or pursue other, less profitable, endeavors. Then, if female doctors are really the cause of societal debt, I'll start listening to this argument.

2) I am not a medical doctor, I am an academic doctor. But, I can tell you that my education was rigorous. I have friends in medical school and residencies. Their education is also rigorous and exhausting. I have been going metaphorical balls-to-the-wall for 8 years now, and I'm not even a 'real professor' yet (PS 8 weeks and counting before can officially claim that title). I can tell you with absolute certainty that I could not have gotten my education on the timeline that I did with children or a demanding significant other (the fiance is an angel about me working all the time), and I can see the benefit and temptation of taking a couple years off to have children or only working part-time so that I could raise a family (as I believe the aforementioned Dr. Sneetch did). In fact, if I tried to do both at the same time, I might waste a lot more taxpayer dollars by futzing up either my job (educating chemists) or my kids. These professions require an almost-inhuman amount of work, and have classically been unfriendly to females who want to have children. I don't think the answer is to further berate the women for not living up to the expectations.

3) The author of the editorial is a medical doctor. She has four children. She still has the opinion that she does.
--Bravo for her. I mean it too. Because in order to have that opinion and really have it mean anything, she better be dynamite, or she'd be a hypocrite. But, let's delve into the unknown. These are questions that I have about the author and her situation - and maybe I have no right to know - but that never stopped my curiosity:
--Does she have family support to care for her children? A husband with a flexible job? A nearby relative that can babysit late at night or on days the kids get sick?
--How much money does she make? Can she afford nannies or other live-in help?
--What kind of practice does she do? I know she's an anesthetist, but what are her hours? Does she meet with patients? How much flexibility is she allowed?
--What do her children think of these claims? Do they feel that they are well-adjusted? Was she there for them when she needed them?
--What did she give up to be able to balance those two aspects of her life (career and family). Some of the best advice I have received so far is that we, as women, can't get an 'A' in every aspect of our lives...for some it's not cooking, for some it's not cleaning, for some it's family life, but we all get 'C's or D's' in some aspect of life. What is this lady's sore spot. This is not only due to my curiosity, but because I think she's talking AT her audience from a pulpit and admitting some fault or flaw would really humanize her.

4) Finally, I think this article just further illustrates the strain of social vs professional requirements on women. It isn't new news. In fact, the National Science Foundation reports that, while women make up almost half of Ph.D's in the physical and over half in the biological sciences, a disproportionate number of women fail to continue their careers past that mark. Being in the trenches, I can understand why, as I've explained before. But, maybe the answer is that we need to support these women as a society (not even financially, though free reliable child care would probably help a lot) and stop expecting them to be Suzy Homemaker AND Dr. QueenBee. Men, I'm talking to you.

One final anecdote.
Early in my graduate career, I was in a class of all men. We were always studying, always working, barely breathing, trying to get through our first year. One night at a study session, we were talking about a mutual friend's recent marriage, and one of my colleagues commented that he needed a wife, to make him a sandwich for lunch everyday. I know he was being a giant jerk, but my reaction was 'I need a WIFE (or mythical creature) to make ME a sandwich'. We could all benefit from that type of partnership, but I feel that women are disproportionately expected to fill that role in their relationships and families.

Comments welcome. Tear me apart. I won't cry. I'm trying, desperately hard, to be that invincible woman that I am expected to be. I'd love to know your thoughts. 

1 comment:

  1. I VERY MUCH agree with #4. I'm lucky that my husband cleans my house & does his own laundry! For a year and a half, we were both in school, and it took a lot of working together and flexibility to make everything work. Dinners out, planned leftovers, & overall respect for one another is what helped us get through that time.