Recently I received this email imbedded in an IU Health newsletter and it made me pause. Lillian B. Mueller, MD was the first woman physician to be on staff at IU Methodist. In 1910 she joined the faculty as an anesthesiologist. What a time it must have been for her! We can understand her excitement when she first put on her white coat, and walked into the operating room.
Many of us can share the exhilaration she must have felt and how many of us have shared her dread as well, or her feelings of inadequacy? The experience we each have had in medicine varies depending not only on who are but who we come in contact with. Recently, I assisted in a study looking at patient satisfaction scores for local physicians. Physician salaries are increasingly tied to patient satisfaction scores and on the surface, this seems ok. Until, you look a little deeper. Our study, currently being submitted, noted that women and underrepresented minority physicians scored lower on patient satisfaction scores. While the numbers are small, it was to some of us not surprising. Recognizing that there exists a bias, conscious or unconscious, that taints the patient physician interaction is the first step. Increasing awareness that this exists, is the next step. As physicians, we must work to disengage this component of reimbursement. If the fact that I am an Hispanic woman changes my patients perspective when I walk into the exam room, even before I do any work as a physician, that satisfaction score should not be included when taking in to consideration my skill as a physician, my reimbursement, or my ability to be promoted.
In a recent JAMA article, researchers looked at 359 emergency medicine residents and found that the female doctors received lower evaluation scores from their professors than their male colleagues. I am not surprised, but are you? When the post came out from the Google engineer, James Damore , who published a 10-page criticism of the company’s “authoritarian” approach to achieving gender diversity, I read it with sadness. We are all not the same, nor do we claim to be and the efforts should focus on increasing opportunity for us all, to understand our own biases, and to reach out to others. When we all function at the top of our capacity, we can make a difference. Promoting the idea that somehow my success means that yours is lessened is nonsense.
As a woman in medicine, I celebrate all of our success and understand our struggle. This is a difficult field, but one that I am blessed to be a part of and I will live every day paying it forward. Look inward and understand myself, look outward to make the world a better place. I plan to treat you all fairly, hope you do as well.