PCMS_Philadelphia_Medicine_Spring2018 - 35

p h i l a m e d s o c  .o rg

"It's a myth to think you can have it all," a female doctor in her 40s
told me just before the beginning of a seminar at the Philadelphia
County Medical Society on gender issues facing women in the medical
profession. She was sitting at a table that had a mix of fellow female
doctors, residents and medical students.
She is a successful physician working in one of the best rehabilitation clinics in the country. She, like almost every other doctor,
medical student and resident who spoke to me that night, did not
want her name mentioned. When she talked about pay, she turned
the issue quickly to pregnancy. She said when she started having
children, her career took a hit.
"You have to be able to compromise. You have to choose your
She explained that, "Somebody has to be home (during maternity
leave), so that tends, of course, to be the woman, not the man. So,
that puts you behind, professionally. As soon as you take any time off
you're behind. So, even if you have equal opportunity, say on your
knowledge base, or your experience, you're not the same, because
you've taken time off."
She said you can't leave medicine and just decide later to get
back into it. "Leaving is not really an option. You can try to cut back.
Arrange your hours. But anything you do in that realm knocks you
down for leadership positions later, because you'll never be able to
make that up.
"There are a few women I know who did not slip behind after
they started a family, but they had husbands who did everything."

"I've seen that when residents get pregnant it's always tough
for them. I haven't seen the father resident react the same way as a
pregnant resident.
"Women carry the baby. It's one of the things we do. And it's
a struggle. It doesn't necessarily make it fair or unfair for us. But
women sometimes sacrifice having a family in order to further their
career. It's always the choice they have to make."
The rehab doctor used breast feeding as an example of the
challenges women face. "How are you going to do that? You can't
see a patient and pump at the same time. If you have more than
one child those issues come up more often. There are a lot of issues
where your husband can't sub for you. Even if you have a very fair
marriage where the husband does a lot of things, there are just some
things he can't do."
She added, "There's also the issue of how guys feel when you work
fewer hours. There are many fields of medicine where it's normal to
have 70-hour workweeks. And I don't know too many women with
children, who are able to do that."
One woman at the seminar who was willing to give her name,
Dr. Katherine Sheriff, vice chair of academic affairs for the Department of Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University, said she decided
to delay having children so she could concentrate on advancing her
career. "I put off having a child as long as possible, because I knew
that once you stepped out it's very hard to get back in. I'm 58 and
my daughter's 10. You either don't have a child or you have a child
very late."

Sheriff said it's pretty obvious that a woman does not have the
When she was asked if the situation women in medicine face same opportunities as a man if the woman has children. "I have heard
when they start to have a family is fair, she answered, "I think it's life." that in certain departments the women are afraid to get pregnant
Although most women in other professions have similar problems, because of the attitudes of the chief and chairs. That's today."
the medical profession requires a high degree of labor-intensive
contact with patients and colleagues that make it impossible, for
example, to do work from home for a couple of days a week, or
routinely alter work schedules.
A young resident at the same table at the seminar as the rehab
doctor, has already seen enough in her blossoming career, to agree
with the rehab specialist.

Another doctor said having babies makes it tougher to get into
leadership roles, because of the tensions involving career and responsibilities at home. "How is management supposed to respond when
you apply for a leadership job and you say, 'I need to have part of
Friday afternoons off, because I have to pick up my kids at school?'"
Continued on page 36

Spring 2018 : Philadelphia Medicine 35


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