Are some medical specialties
The answer is a resounding yes! One student indicated that an orthopedic
surgeon she knew said, 'I don't believe that women belong in orthopedic
surgery, but if a woman is going to make the mistake of going into a
surgical specialty, then it should be in orthopedics."
What are some of the tradeoffs successful women physicians perceive
they have made in their personal lives in directing their careers? This
story may not be atypical: A woman physician completed a surgical residency.
She, then, had three children, and divorced. Residency training is very
hard on relationships. In this case the physician completed two more
residencies.... in pathology and in family practice. She did the pathology
residency to support her family and to work at reasonable hours, but
she missed the patient contact so much that she also did a Family Practice
residency. She is now in a group practice so she can have patient contact.
She indicates that juggling her family commitments with all her training
and her jobs has been very difficult.
Most medical schools and premedical advisors can, of course, tell you
about specific cases of women who have entered surgical and other male-dominated
specialties and have prospered. You may wish to spend time asking questions
of these women pioneers to get a better idea of what trails you may
be blazing, and whether those trails still beckon you after you understand
some of the trade-offs you may need to make.
Percentage of Women in Selected Specialties,
% of Women
% of Women
Obstetrics & Gynecology
Colon & Rectal Surgery
Will I be taken less seriously
than a male applicant?
Administrators and physicians involved in the admissions process will
be cautioned not to have gender bias, but that is not to say it does
not exist. Older, very conservative men, could be more likely to have
these views, but, being an older man does not automatically invite bias.
One premedical student whose father was a doctor put it this way, "Throughout
my undergraduate years, I never labeled myself as a female student.
I have been surprised by comments such as , "It's great that you
are president of such and such group.....especially, because you are
a woman". Frankly, my concerns lie with the future of all physicians."
This is probably the best attitude to have and to reflect as you go
through the application process.
Am I considered more emotional
than a man?
Probably not based on your gender, unless you give the school or interviewer
reason to believe this by some emotional outburst or other behavior
not considered "normal". For example, in answer to an interview
question about what your personal strengths are, if you said you were
empathetic to humans in stressful or painful situations and you illustrated
that statement with good examples in medical or non-medical circumstances,
that would not be taken as a "sign of being an emotional female."
Will I be asked more
questions about my family or personal history than a male applicant?
That, of course, is up to individual interviewers, and we will address
"illegal" questions asked at the interview a bit later. You
will not be asked in writing about your relationships, your family or
your personal history on the primary (AMCAS and AACOMAS) applications,
nor on the secondary applications developed by each medical school because
the schools know that this type of question leaves them liable to lawsuits
based on sexual discrimination.
Will I be asked if
I am going to get married? Should I express my intention to marry?
This is a specific example of an illegal question about your personal
history. One student put a completely different perspective to this
question: "My most important goal is to be a good mother and wife.
Being a doctor is my career, but it is not my life. Don't get me wrong,
I love medicine and I will be a good doctor, but I would be a good doctor,..
even if I were a man!" This may not be something you can say in
the interview, but it is a great perspective. It is not the business
of the admissions committee to inquire about your relationships now,
or planned (or unplanned) in the future.
Do not offer information about this part of your life unless you believe
it is beneficial for your application. One good reason to discuss your
spousal relationship in the application process is when your spouse
is also applying to medical school at the same time. You probably wish
to attend the same school. And, you want to discuss with the school
how they view both of you attending their school. It is a bit tricky,
as rarely are both husband and wife perceived by a school to be at the
same competitive level, but, if you seek attending the same school,
you need to address this early with admissions personnel.
Will the Admissions
Committee assume that I'll get pregnant during medical school and drop
Another illegal question. Should I express my intention to have children?
If the school catalog mentions provision of childcare and married person
and family support groups (and many do today), directly contact the
personnel who supervise those services to answer your specific questions.
One student said, "I am amazed that women premedical students
are still asked to reveal their future plans for having children-- as
if it is possible for us to look into our 'crystal balls' and predict
the future. Equally astounding is that men premedical students are not
regularly questioned about their future family plans. Are medical schools
and the health care industry suggesting that men are able to walk away
from their responsibilities as parents more easily than women? Or, does
this line of questioning provide the opportunity for bias against women
who intend to have a family as well as a career? The medical profession
must decide if it can afford to offend women physicians in order to
avoid provision for maternity benefits. What right do members of a profession
have to prejudge my ability to function as both a physician and as a
mother?" A good point.
When is the best time
to have children during medical education and training?
One student said, "I plan to delay marriage and childbearing until
after medical school, after or toward the end of residency." Another
medical student had her first child between the second year (the last
basic science year) and the third year (the first clinical year), her
second child was born during the second year of her internal medicine
residency which was creatively split into six months on and six months
off with another woman resident, and her third child was born after
she joined a group practice. Her husband was a nurse!
Another student said, "I discovered I was pregnant the same day
I received my first request to interview at a medical school on the
opposite coast. The next three months were hectic, as I adjusted to
my pregnancy, attended classes, and flew all over the country interviewing.
The day I was accepted was one of the happiest and most fulfilling of
my life...and so was finding out I was pregnant. Both events were planned
and anticipated, but the inherent conflict represented therein is perhaps
my area of greatest concern. One moment I am ecstatic and confident
about the prospect of "having it all" and the next, I am panic-stricken
at the enormity of what lies ahead. I worry about being able to balance
medical school and becoming a parent. I am concerned about doing both
things well and I realize that sacrifices will be made along the way.
I try not to dwell on the future because I know I cannot control every
aspect of it. I have a very close support system: husband, friends,
and extended family. I hope that I will find others who share my concerns
while I am in medical school and that we can be supportive of each other."
This student deferred matriculation for one year, and then decided not
to attend medical school.
So, you see that there are many perspectives about having children
during your training. The author worked 80 hour weeks for about three
years teaching college and doing research with a small baby and decided
to take a part-time position in order to have more time for a second
child. She had that child three weeks into her new job. Perhaps, what
is most important is that there be support mechanisms and supportive
family or friends for you during the having and raising of children.
On entry to medical school, 6% of women and 7% of men have children;
by graduation, 11% of women and 16% of men have at least one child.
Most medical schools do not have formal policies dealing with parental
leave; some are flexible, and others are not. Many schools allow a one
semester to one year leave of absence for child bearing. Certainly,
the case can be made that if students can take a leave of absence to
do research, to do special clinical work in another country, to earn
an MPH or an MBA, why couldn't a student take a leave of absence to
have a child? With good planning and support, successful pregnancies
can take place at any time during medical school. But, it is probably
never easy. However, the same can be said for the child-bearing and
rearing decisions made by any professional woman in just about any job.
The advice from women physicians who have had children during their
training varies. Most suggest avoiding having children during the third
year of medical school and the intern year, since these are the most
time-intensive and stressful training periods. To lessen stress, some
women suggest planning pregnancies between the second and third year
of medical school, during the fourth year when electives can be scheduled,
during the last year of residency (not surgical), during a year off,
or after residency.
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