On Dec 19th, 2016, JAMA published a cross-sectional study titled: Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs. Female Physicians.
The title says it all, a group of researchers wanted to see if the gender of your physician changed your outcome. The measure of outcome was 30-day mortality and readmission rates. Prior to this study, research had already showed that female physicians were more likely to practice evidenced-based medicine and to stick to current guidelines. Somehow, these studies didn’t mean much in this male-centered world of medicine. One would logically expect that if women followed the guidelines, they would have better outcomes, after all, we create guidelines to decrease mortality and improve patient experiences. And yet, this article sent shock waves through the medical community!
The Nitty Gritty of the Study
The study included hospitalized, elderly (> 65 yrs) patients. Only hospitalists were used in the study and the study occurred between January 1st 2011 – Dec 31st 2013. They analyzed 1,583,028 patients for 30-day mortality and 1,540,797 patients for readmission rates. The results showed that female physicians had lower mortality and readmission rates than their male counterparts.
No, This Isn’t a Feminist Mission
Prior to becoming a physician, I had never experienced sexism. I was raised without being told that as a women, I had a certain role to fill. I was raised by a stay-at home mom, but that was neither praised nor dismissed. You do what you want with your life, regardless of your sex. I had no idea that there were people in the world who thought less of my abilities because I was female. I do not consider myself a feminist (and the feminists I know would agree). But I do consider myself equal, go figure.
Then I went to medical school and I was shocked at the blatant sexism. It wasn’t the lack of female physicians that struck me, it was the lack of respect we receive from our patients and coworkers. Have you ever heard of mansplaining? You would be disgusted by how many times this happens to female physicians by their male coworkers. As obvious as this sexism is to all of us female physicians, many male physicians just don’t see it. Or if they do, they downplay it and say don’t be dramatic. Right, let me see them be called Honey instead of doctor on the daily, and have them be dismissed when a female physician walks in, or god-forbid a women “mansplain” to them.
Females are Better than Males?!
The interesting part to me was the reaction in the medical community. The day after this study published, this was all people were talking about. Women loved it, some men were upset (not all, but definitely there were many upset). This is the first time that in our male-dominated community, women were shown to be, at the very least, just as good as their male counterparts.
Most of all, the defensiveness of male physicians was surprising. Personally, I don’t believe I am a better physician because of my sex. In fact, I don’t consider myself better than any other physician regardless of sex. I consider myself equal. I study just as hard, I care just as much, and I try to better myself everyday. This article didn’t make me feel superior or smarter than my male coworkers. It just made me chuckle that we even had to perform such a study. So when I see the defensive response by male physicians, I laugh and say welcome to my last few years of being a doctor. Being told I am just “one of those women who feels they have to prove themselves” when I do stand up and argue my point. Welcome to the gender bias, it isn’t so fun, is it!