My Future is just as good as my Sutures – Females in Medicine

My Future is just as good as my Sutures – Females in Medicine

“If you were male, we would have assumed you could suture.”

The doctor had a bright smile on his face and, as always, was trying to be charming. I looked over to my friend to confirm I’d heard him correctly. She looked as astonished as I felt. Here was a young, intelligent and upcoming surgeon and he was telling us that our weeks of hard work hadn’t mattered; only our gender did.

By this point in time, we had put in more than 50 hours each week at the hospital. We had attended every surgical theater on offer, stood on our feet throughout the day following doctors, answered difficult questions, assisted in procedures, held up necrotic limbs, pulled back engorged intestines and sutured-up multiple abdomens.  We would come home tired and then study for hours about the conditions we had seen in order to learn more the next day. But despite all of this, here we were sitting in a room, with a flirtatious male being told that I had “lost weight and looked good” and the fact that I didn’t have “a boyfriend after all this time is unbelievable”. Where was the mention of our hard work? Our clinical improvement? Our persistence? Our enthusiasm? Where was the advice for me as a student looking at a career in surgery? Where was the acknowledgment of us as future doctors? Where was all of this? It seems that after weeks of diligent study, only my changing figure and current relationship status were worthy of mention. That’s when it hit me – Welcome to the exciting world of being a female in medicine.

 “After weeks of diligent study, only my changing figure and current relationship status were worthy of mention.”

As a fifth year medical student I am sad to say that I have seen, experienced and heard many scenarios echoing the themes of my most recent encounter. A woman walking through a hospital is often confused for a nurse, allied health professional or aide. While these jobs are integral to patient care and healthcare functioning, it highlights the fact that people often assume a female is not a doctor but the male next to her is. While on ward rounds, there are always patients who thank the males on the team by saying “Thanks doctor,” and then turn to the females and say “thanks girls.” When offering to administer needles or insert catheters, it’s not uncommon for patients to say “oh I got a pretty one,” while addressing the female medical student. These small yet frequent occurrences show how, on a daily basis, we women in medicine are not equated to our male counter parts.

Historically, there have been more male than female doctors. In the 1980s, only 25% of GPs and less than 1 in 6 specialists were women. However, fast forward to 2017 and females out number males in medical school 55% to 45% and dominate fields such as dermatology, pathology and family medicine. A 2017 JAMA study has even found that patients treated by female physicians have significantly lower mortality and readmission rates compared to those treated by male physicians. Yet, despite these achievements, female doctors are still paid ~ $20,000 less than their male counterparts and are woefully underrepresented in the areas of surgery and leadership. Even though  preferences for specialty areas across male and female medical students are the same, fewer than 12.5% of hospitals have a female chief executive, less than 30% of medical schools have female deans and only 1 in 3 chief medical officers are female.

 Female doctors are still paid ~ $20,000 less than their male counterparts and are woefully underrepresented in the areas of surgery and leadership

Most of the areas where women are poorly represented offer limited options for work flexibility and require years of training that coincide with the prime of our lives. However, I believe the barrier of “perceived credibility” also plays a large role in this gender gap. For example, after having had placed countless cannulas and done many sutures, a close friend of mine asked an anesthetist if she could place the IVC for a patient in theater. The doctor took one look at her, said that he’d prefer someone who actually knows what they are doing and reluctantly let her do it. Fast forward to the next patient, and a male student asked to do the IVC while admitting he had never done one before. For him, the doctor was happy to oblige and assisted throughout the procedure. It is frustrating and demoralizing to see how male students need only don scrubs, and suddenly they’re experienced and enthusiastic. It doesn’t matter if I have been standing for the past 2 hours waiting to assist in a surgery I had painstakingly studied about. You see, the male student who doesn’t know the first thing about lignocaine has a strong Y-chromosome that clearly makes him a better choice.

Women in medicine and surgery need to be taken as seriously as males; it is the only way to truly move forward. Treating us differently and placing less value on our capabilities alienates us and furthers the gender divide. In fact, lack of support and the presence of internalized bias discourages females from actively seeking out the careers they dream of. Medicine is a long, hard but rewarding road. It is exhilarating yet tiring and requires you to be your best even when you feel less than that. You see people at their top and you help them at their worst. Coming straight from high school, medicine is a degree that matures you quickly and gives you a wealth of experience in a few fleeting years. As a senior MBBS student standing on a precipice about to jump into a career as a doctor, I see a field that is bursting with opportunities. I am excited for what my future holds. But, this undeniable gender inequality scares me, angers me and saddens me. In this day and age women like me should not be made to feel our ovaries and mammaries make us less able to do surgeries. We should not be told that being pretty makes the needle we are administering “hurt less”. We should not be told that our career options are more promising in fields that work 9am – 3pm. We should not be cut down before we even begin. So please, the next time you see a female in medicine acknowledge her skills, her experience, her wisdom, her hard work and her dedication. Acknowledge her as a doctor and as an equal – I ask from you nothing more and nothing less.

The next time you see a female in medicine acknowledge her skills, her experience, her wisdom, her hard work and her dedication. Acknowledge her as a doctor and as an equal – I ask from you nothing more and nothing less.


Invisible Medical Student-itis

20 y/o, female, third year medical student, presenting with a serious case of invisibility. Onset was sudden, 3 years ago upon commencement of the degree. Slight decrease in symptom severity over the past year as knowledge has increased however the true extent of the invisibility depends on which ward she is in. Symptoms are exacerbated by consultants and senior regs but alleviated by nice helpful doctors and nurses.

Most recent case of the ailment

  • Site: Intensive Care Unit
  • Associated symptoms: No motivation, bored, sleepy, feeling stupid, sore feet from no chairs available for the med student and overwhelming urge to go home.
  • Timing: 4 hours (was projected to be 8hrs but left early from intolerable symptoms)
  • Severity: 8/10

Over my past few placements I have come to the realisation that I have a serious case of ‘invisible medical student-itis.’ This is a widespread disease affecting MBBS students everywhere regardless of their age or intellectual aptitude. The diagnosis is upon observation where a lone med student is avoided by a minimum radius of 2 meters by all health professionals. The cure is not entirely known – proactivity helps in some cases, however in others it’s largely unresponsive. There is no vaccination  and like any viral illness one must wait until the illness passes – this can take 4 to 7 years depending on what form of the disease/degree is acquired.

It’s that time of year again – uni holidays – which means for us pre-clinical medical students its placement time. Getting to put all the knowledge we have learnt into practice. Seeing real patients, doing real procedures (cannulas woah!), answering questions and being all medical-like. Sounds amazing right? Well that depends. You must be careful as to avoid the contagious bug that causes “invisible medical student-itis”- for once you have it, placement will be as exciting as watching a cactus grow. And unfortunately for me, I got infected in my placement at ICU. G-R-E-A-T.

Let me set the scene – enthusiastic Nimmy bounced into ICU at 7:45am on a Saturday morning (yepp I got rostered on the weekend) and introduced herself to the doctor sitting at reception. Within 5 minutes of meeting me, Dr Reception-man (as I will refer to him)  told me to go straight home because ICU on a weekend sucks. But Nay – I wished to stay for a little bit for I had already made the effort of turning up – this was my first mistake. The moment I said I’d stay, I began to become invisible to Dr Reception-man.

The rest of my day panned out like this:
I asked questions and was super enthusiastic but the doctor couldn’t have cared less, and proceeded to ignore me for the entire morning. When he saw patients, he introduced himself only and never told the patients about me. Consequently, Nimmy had to loiter in the corner of the room awkwardly smiling at the patients. It was like if the doctor pretended I didn’t exist then maybe the patient would forget I was there too. Talk about deflating. Other times the doctor would walk across the room, and if I was in his path, he’d look at me as though he was wondering where on earth I had come from (dude I’ve been here all day!).

Don’t get me wrong, there are very many clinicians (nurses, allied health and docs) who love having students with them. These professionals are absolute legends because they know the only way students can learn is by being given the opportunity to learn. As students, we are put into completely alien environments with no one we know, so to have someone show you how things work is so refreshing and helpful. When health professionals get us involved, we begin to gain skills that we can then use to help others later on in our placement. Taking a history, quizzing us about what we’re seeing, hearing or feeling on examination or even telling us how to do documentation – these are all things we want to see but can never do if no one can see us.

So what am I trying to get at? If you’re a doctor for whom medical school is a distant memory, just a refresher: if you see a medical student in front of you, we have made an effort to be there to learn from you so please don’t pretend we don’t exist. I’m not saying you have to pat us on the back for turning up. Heck, don’t even bother learning our names if you don’t want to. If you’re too busy, just point us in the direction of a person who does teach – we understand. But if there’s time to teach us, please do it – we will forever remember you as the doctor who cured our “invisible medical student-itis”.



Why I chose Med? Not really sure…

To most people a career in medicine conjures up visions of Grays Anatomy – doctors in scrubs saying intelligent sounding words, using defibrillators, driving BMWs and saving lives all before lunch. But before we can become Dr Shepherd (a.k.a. McDreamy) or develop the next bionic ear, there is a little hurdle that we must jump; and that hurdle is called med school.


The most common question I am asked is, “Why did you choose med school?” and to be honest I never feel like my answer is a great one. For me, medicine was the logical choice. It was like choosing salad over cake. Your heart wants the cake but your head goes with the wiser choice – salad. While a chasing a career in performing arts is what I would love to do, becoming a doctor is the more practical option; job security, good pay, helping people, accumulating knowledge (and the list goes on). While this end goal seems great, no one ever tells you just how torturous the insane obstacle course to get there really is. As the Tumblr saying goes “Med school is like a walk in the park, but the grass is on fire, the trees are on fire, you’re on fire, everything is on fire. Welcome to Hell”. You are constantly surrounded by hundreds of over achievers who will do anything to be the best. The few normal people will inevitably be converted into nervous wrecks over the next five years of slavery (aka our degree). Hours and hours will be spent slaving over textbooks to learn facts real doctors could not care less about. You feel like you are constantly drowning and your peers are the only ones there to help you – but chances are they suck at swimming just as much as you do.


For me, it is often difficult to remember why I started the whole journey in the first place – especially when you are perpetually surrounded by paper work, empty coffee cups and bright pink histology images (all of which look the same because I have no idea what’s happening). It’s hard to see when or even if any of this will be worth it in the end. I often find myself in tears asking, “Why can’t I just give up on the salad of a choice that is med school and eat my cake?” Even if performing isn’t a stable career at least I’ll enjoy it right?   When I reach this place, I remind myself of the things that performing can never give me. The things that never fail to turn me around from my storm of self-pity. It is these things that make all the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.

The feeling of fulfilment I get when looking into a patient’s eyes and knowing that I made a difference is one that cannot be emulated by any audience. And it’s not just how I can help patients – oh no! The feeling I get when a patient believes in me and is thankful for the job I have is one that cannot be paralleled by any amount of stage time. I still remember an 80 year old lady who so kindly let me suture her nose up after a particularly tricky biopsy. I was nervous, I was scared and I was apologetic. However, most of all I was astounded that she even let me near her after I had almost fainted at the sight of her blood, dropped the forceps (that were attached to her nose) and failed to stop the fountain of blood coming from the incision. Nonetheless, when it came to suturing, she calmed me down and told me that she believed that I could do it. In fact, once I had finished she proudly announced to the whole treatment room that I had done a wonderful job and she couldn’t wait to show her grandson her sutures. Even though the procedure had gone far from planned (and the doctor was not impressed by me), I felt so proud and happy that a patient believed in me and was happy with the effort I had put in. A week later when the patient returned to get the sutures removed, she brought me a box of chocolates and a card – that was my round of applause!


Ultimately, I know I need performance and medicine in my life. So, I have made a promise to myself: throughout medical school I will endeavour to satisfy my cravings for performance but stay true to my desire to help those in need. I choreograph Bollywood dances while studying muscle physiology. I learn about haemolytic anaemias during the day and transform into Shakespearian characters at night. It’s hard work and takes blood sweat and tears (sometimes literally) but I do this in the hope that someday I am be able to devour my life’s cake while enjoying the salad too. But for now, I’m only in my third year of med school, so guess I’ll have to keep munching on that lettuce.