7 ways to fight hospital micro-aggression as a woman

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Sexism in medicine is alive and well, and all women doctors know this.  I belong to a group of about 70,000 physician mothers, and obviously, the diversity there is huge, but we can ALL agree on the fact that it’s is tough to be a woman in medicine.  There are some major hurdles that are being discussed right now.  For example, lack of women in leadership and administrative roles in healthcare.  There is also the fact that women make less money, even after adjustment for reduced hours for family rearing.  Thankfully, “Physician locker rooms” now have a female section in the back (eyeroll), but the attitudes are so pervasive, that day to day interactions are full of sexist jabs that are really enough to demoralize a person, like death by a thousand paper cuts.

It depends how brave and energetic you are, but you might not always feel like standing up for yourself in a strong way.  Maybe you’ve got PMS, or you just have too much to do today to fight for women’s rights in the doctors’ lounge.  I have come up with some easy ways you can combat and avoid micro-aggression at the hospital and still retain your sanity.  You can micro-aggress the micro-aggression back.

  1. Always wear a white coat
    Any woman in the hospital is a nurse, especially if she is in scrubs.  Any man is a doctor, and it doesn’t matter what he wears.  I wear a long white coat, and that reduces the likelihood of my being asked to take a bedpan out by about 15%
  2. Never sit at the nurses’ station where people can see you
    If you do, someone will inevitably come up to you and ask you directions to room 354, or ask you for their dose of pain meds, or ask you where they should put the new shipment of pens.  You should hide in the dictation room even if you don’t dictate any more, because Epic.
  3. Always refer to yourself as “Dr…..”
    I always thought this was snobby, but after a few years, I realized that being on a first name basis with your staff will lead to people snapping at you and not doing what you ask.  Plus, my first name “Sasha” isn’t very doctorly.
  4. Make people think your orders are their idea
    You’re always either going to be too bossy or too soft.  The best is to appeal to staff members’ fragile egos, then they’ll love you.  Frame things as “It might be nice if…”  or “What do you think about…”  And always smile.  Or not…  Then again, sometimes, if you do that, you’re branded wishy washy, and people might think you don’t know what you’re doing.  Catch 22.
  5. Be passive aggressive
    As a woman, no one wants you to be direct or blunt, even though that’s probably the best way of dealing with things in other arenas in your life.  If you have a problem with a staff member, don’t address it directly, go through a manager or supervisor.
  6. Get glasses and/or gray hair
    No one will take you seriously if you look young or pretty, or they’ll think you’re an NP, and ask to speak to the doctor.  “You’re not what a doctor looks like.”  With glasses on, you look 20-25% smarter, you might get your point across faster, and patients might believe what you say.
  7. Don’t mention your kids
    …lest you want to be judged.  I have not come up with a better way of avoiding hearing, “Kids are always better with their mommy,” or “They must miss you while you’re here.”  Better to not even talk about them.

That’s about all I’ve got so far.  That’s at least 7 years of experience I’m sharing with you here.  It’s not much, but it’ll get you started, at least until we beat the specter of sexism and discrimination for good.  I have my goals set on 2020.  By 2020, I plan to cure medicine of sexism.  Wish me luck and good luck to you out there.

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