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    Questions from Women Students 
    Written for Kaplan's Medical School Admissions Advisor. Posted versions are longer than those published.

Questions from Women:
   Specialties still male-dominated?
   Women taken less seriously?
   Women considered more emotional?
   Interview questions about family, marriage,
More Questions...


    Are some medical specialties still male-dominated?

    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, 2001


    % of Women


    % of Women

    Obstetrics & Gynecology
    Child/Adolescent Psych
    Child Newurology
    Family Practice
    Preventive Medicine


    General Surgery
    Plastic Surgery
    Colon & Rectal Surgery
    Pediatric Surgery
    Vascular Surgery
    Orthopedic Surgery
    Thoracic 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 out?

    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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