Rose’s latest post got me thinking about the culture of medicine, and how it may have changed as the result of more women entering the field. Though I am not a woman myself (as my gravatar can attest, though perhaps that image is not a 100% accurate depiction), I believe that I have benefited personally from the ways that culture has been affected by the influx of women.
Medicine was once a male-d0minated field, but that has been changing dramatically over the past few generations. However, the distribution across the different specialties is inconsistent. My Googling skills seem to be failing me this morning, so I can’t find good numbers on the rates of women entering the various fields. I have a strong impression that women tend to favor primary care specialties, with men still comprising the majority in fields like surgery. (Anyone with actual figures, I’d love it if you’d drop them in the comments.) My own field of pediatrics has long been a top choice of female physicians. From residency through my fellowship and into my current job, the women have outnumbered the men; my previous job was the only one where there was an even divide.
Now, the most obvious way that women have benefited me as a doctor is by being great instructors and colleagues. Perhaps that goes without saying, but I felt like saying it anyway. I am one of only two men at my current practice, and I am lucky to be working with each and every one of the physicians and nurse practitioners in our office. Medical care without the contribution of professionals such as them would be indescribably impoverished.
But there’s more to it than that. Medicine has a tradition of being one of those professions that define the whole of your life. Everything was to be subsumed into one’s being a physician. It took precedence over everything else, and it was expected to be one’s top priority. I saw evidence of this attitude myself a few years ago when I attended a hospital staff meeting at a previous job and listened to an older physician gripe about what he saw as the misplaced priorities of younger doctors, who evinced reluctance to do such thing as attend staff meetings during time set aside for family. (I think I may have even written about it, but if so it’s lost in the misty ether of my archives.) Being one of those younger physicians who was fiercely protective of his private time, I didn’t have much sympathy for his viewpoint. Indeed, the hospital was having some recruitment troubles, and failing to accommodate the work/family demands of younger providers would certainly have stymied those efforts.
I am absolutely clear about the line between my work life and home life. As a partner, I have some obligations that extend beyond those of being an employee, but that’s more about being a business owner than being a physician. When it comes to demands on my time that accrue to my being a doctor per se, there are bright lines around how much I’m willing to give. One of the things that drew me to my present job (which, for the record, I love) is how flexible my then boss (now partner) was willing to be with my schedule to maximize my time with my family. Less than a week ago I sent a regretful e-mail to someone at the hospital, explaining that I could not commit to attending certain meetings because they had been scheduled on a day I don’t work. I did so without any hesitation, with the full expectation that my response would not be questioned. I do not think I could have done so in decades past, certainly without getting some blowback.
I strongly suspect that this change in culture is due to the influx of women into medicine. As more and more women demanded a balance between their careers and their private lives, medicine was forced to adjust its expectations. I imagine that some of the reason that women pick certain specialties over others is that they are more amenable to this kind of balance. I don’t think it’s because women are innately less ambitious. (I’m plenty ambitious, and I don’t see that as being in conflict with the priorities I describe.) I’ve certainly known a few women who were clearly driven by career above all else, so it’s not like this is a cut-and-dried gender split. But insofar as there’s been a general change as more women have become doctors, it’s been in the direction of allowing for family to have its place in their lives.
I think that change has been good for everyone, men and women alike. Obviously, those who choose to prioritize their careers still have that option. But for those of us who want to spend time with our kids or spouses, it’s good to know that the profession is increasingly open to those values. And I think we have women to thank for it.