Columnist Susan Wozniak: The hurdles women face in medicine

  • Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives for her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday. AP

Published: 3/25/2022 9:17:16 AM
Modified: 3/25/2022 9:16:25 AM

The Senate questioning of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson makes this week a good time to consider that women often face tougher exams and harsher criticism than their male counterparts. I selected three professions — medicine, education and management — to focus upon. After skimming many studies, I decided to concentrate on medicine.

I’m a researcher. Google and YouTube are my bailiwick. However, I am not alone in relying on the posted opinions of consumers, at least to check the trends. Today, online evaluations are not limited to the sizing of sweaters or the serviceability of certain tires. Many patients use reviews when picking a doctor. Writers for the site Software Advice found that this trend is growing.

When one of my doctors moved, I was assigned to a colleague of hers. I did no research, as I assumed that, for insurance reasons, I had to accept this person. However, I did not care for the replacement. This is not a judgment of him as a clinician but as a person. As such, I will not review him. After all, how I see that practitioner may be the minority opinion. Other personalities might mesh with his personality. I do not feel it fair to make my opinion public or to even publish his name. Clearly others feel that even their slightest reactions need to be read.

What struck me as unfair is one critic of my former doctor ridiculed her choice of vocabulary. Really? I decided to look up two practitioners. One, a specialist, received a single evaluation that provided the highest rating of five stars for each category. The other received a range of reviews that averaged out to 4.3 stars.

But, how fair are those reviews? I decided to look at people I knew personally, before they began medical school. A woman who had been a college classmate received but a handful of a reviews for an overall rating of 3 out of 5. But, as she was a psychiatrist, is it possible that the nature of her practice inspired harsher reactions from her patients?

Then, I turned to two men who grew up in my neighborhood. Both had been National Merit scholars. One remained in the same offices throughout his career. The earlier reviews were shockingly bad. This was not the person I knew. However, as the years went by, it seemed that his patients thought more highly of him. Or, maybe, as he grew in confidence, his demeanor softened and warmed.

As for the last person of that group, his career began on the West Coast. He jumped to the East Coast, then traveled steadily south over the years. There were no reviews of him to be found. However, at least one form asked what to me was a ridiculous question: Is there free parking near Dr. X’s office?

I then considered the daughter of a friend whose specialty is ER. A male patient described her as a lawsuit waiting to be filed. The number of female applicants to medical and osteopathic schools is growing. The percentage of women students remaining in school to graduate is also rising. Still, as a study by the University of Chicago showed, during the first year of training, faculty treat and judge female and male students evenly. However, the faculty judgment of women students becomes harsher as the students advance.

A New York Times article cites how patients assume a woman wearing a white coat and introducing herself as doctor is really a nurse or a physician’s assistance. If the woman is trailing a male medical student, the patient might make eye contact with him and not her.

How good are women doctors? The publication JAMA Surgery studied the cases of 1.3 million patients and found that women patients were 32% less likely to die and 16% less likely to develop complications if cared for by female surgeons. A nearly two-decade study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that both male and female heart attack victims were more likely to survive if treated by a woman doctor.

Still, discovered that gender barriers for women medical students and doctors continue to exist. While 2015 saw women making up 39% of full-time medical faculties, they are usually not invited to speak at continuing education programs for doctors.

Finally, just this year, the Harvard Business Review wrote how women doctors face the same old problem that women professionals have long faced: women in medicine still carry the burden of child care, school and housekeeping. It is not just the current pandemic that is causing female physicians to burn out. Woman find it more difficult “to decompress when they returned home from work.”

This pattern is not just related to child-rearing, but, follows women doctors into their 60s. Plus, Black and Hispanic women doctors find more problems with diversity and respect than their male Black and Hispanic counterparts.

Women doctors, like women managers, professors, lawyers, and, of course, women judges, have a vital role to play both in professional and societal terms. They need to be valued and supported.

Susan Wozniak can be reached at


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