Female physicians challenge the status quo

Local doctors discuss gender perceptions and career challenges

Delta Digital News Service

By Courtney Edwards | Aspiring Journalist

JONESBORO, Ark. – It’s no secret the medical profession is male dominated. However, women outnumber men in six out of 43 medical specialties in the U.S., according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Those specialties include pediatrics, OB-GYN, ped hematology/oncology, child psychiatry, internal med/pediatrics and geriatrics.

Stereotypes in the Medical Field

When it comes to the stereotype of men pursuing careers as doctors while women go only into nursing, A-State Professor of Philosophy Michele Merritt, PhD, states that although not entirely untrue, the inaccurate notion behind the stereotype could be causing more women to pursue nursing rather than more advanced medical degrees.

“The thing about stereotypes is that they are not entirely false,” Merritt said. “They are overblown and oversimplified depictions of something based in reality. This doesn’t mean that all women ​in the medical field go into nursing, of course. In any case, there is definitely an imbalance. This is changing, but change happens gradually.”

Merritt explained a phenomenon called “stereotype threat.” It involves a prevailing stereotype actually affecting someone’s performance in a specific field.

“So, for example, if you keep pushing the stereotype that girls cannot do math, and girls hear this message, they do not do well in math in school,” Merritt said. “If you instead empower them and build them up, their scores go up.

Merritt says she doesn’t have definitive evidence that’s why more women go into the field of nursing, but believe that the ‘men are doctors and women are nurses’ prevailing stereotype hampers the pursuit of women into field.

“I don’t have any proof that this is occurring in nursing, but my guess is that stereotype threat is keeping women from pursuing more advanced medical careers because many of them don’t believe they are capable.”

Equality During Training

Although men outnumber women in advanced medical practices, it doesn’t mean women aren’t treated equally among them.

Dr. Stacy Wilbanks specializes in wound care at NEA Baptist Hospital in Jonesboro. She said she felt was always treated equally during her training.

“I didn’t feel that I was at any disadvantage for being a female,” Wilbanks said.

Two other female physicians from NEA Baptist also said they never felt they were at any disadvantage, but they also recognize they live in a time of change.

Dr. Lauren Barr, a resident specializing in internal medicine, said she feels lucky to live in a time where she is able to choose to pursue a professional career in medicine.

“I think that medicine traditionally has been a very male-dominated field,” Barr said. “I’m fortunate enough to pursue medicine at a time that’s starting to shift. I do think some of those old attitudes of ‘women are the homemakers. They are supposed to have children’ are still there.”

Barr also said even though these attitudes still exist, they are much less prominent than she originally thought they would be. Considering some of the stories she’s heard from her older colleagues, she said she feels fortunate she hasn’t had to go through some of the things they have.

As an OBG/YN, Dr. Jodi Turano said she felt being a female has actually helped her professionally rather than hinder her. Still, she said she’s experienced some gender discrimination in her career.

“I have had run-ins with certain people post residency that kind of treated me slightly different because I’m a female,” Turano said. “I don’t know if that’s definitely the case, but that’s how I took it.”

The Gender Pay Gap

According to the AAMC, in 2019, women working in medical institutions were still being paid less than their male counterparts. The gender pay gap can be explained by women leading towards careers in lower-paying medical specialties.  Women are also more likely to choose flexibility over higher salaries, especially if they have children.  

“Because I want to spend as much time with my kids, I recognize that I am not going to make as much money as the guy who’s willing to spend every other weekend working extra shifts,” Wilbanks said.

Turano said if women go through the same training as men, the pay gap shouldn’t be there. “We go through the same training as a male physician,” she said. “We shouldn’t be treated any differently.”

Although women still face challenges in the medical field, times are changing. Change is gradual, but as more women enter the medical field, the more represented and equal they feel.

“We are already busting this stereotype mentally, but our practices are slow to catch up,” Merritt said. “I think one thing that we need to be constantly reminded of is that ‘men’ and ‘women’ are terms that describe two gender identities and do not have much (if anything) to do with capabilities or aptitude.”

Note: Featured image shows from left, physicians Lauren Barr, Stacy Wilbanks and Jodi Turano.

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