Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Women Doctors

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 19, 2012

Last night I had the privilege of speaking to a group of women physicians, mostly psychiatrists, leading to the inevitable topic of how quickly the field of medicine is changing in that it is unrecognizable from our field twenty years ago. We were middle-aged women who remember when it was a big deal for a woman to become a physician; gender atypical, one might say. Now, over half of most medical students are women. As a group, our daughters, not our sons, are entering medical training. “What does this mean?” one woman asked. “Women will earn the money and men will take care of the household,” one woman answered. “Or women will do both, like they have been doing for generations,” another woman said. “Women are twice as likely to get depressed as men,” I say, adding in a well-established psychiatric statistic. “Is this related?” I ask out loud. “Yes, but women are twice as likely to get depressed from menarche to menopause, so that makes it seem hormonal,” one knowledgeable woman answered. “Yes, but those are also the years where women have to juggle a lot of competing responsibilities,” another well-informed woman chimed in. “Men are more likely to be alcoholics,” another woman said, implying that maybe men deal with their psychological issues through substances and not through talking about their mental state. As usual, we had no answers, but many questions. Our worlds,  the world of knowing a “woman’s role” and the world of medical practice, is confusing to us. We want to help people, but how best to do this, is not completely clear. We want to be role models to our younger colleagues, but we do not understand their world and they do not understand ours. All in all, it was nice to be together to chat about common concerns. My job was to keep the conversation going. They did not need me for that. The passion for this topic generated the energy in the room.

2 Responses to “Women Doctors”

  1. Shelly said

    It does seem that you professionals do have a great deal to talk about and all have similar fears. It would be interesting to hear what a room full of male physicians talk about. How is it that you do not understand your younger colleagues (as you say in your blog), since not too long ago, that was you? I get when you say that your younger colleagues do not understand your concerns, but how can you not understand theirs, since that was you only a few years ago?

    • You raise an interesting point, as usual. We did discuss what we think our male colleagues talk about. It was our consensus that women doctors take their patients home with them, so to speak, whereas our male colleagues more easlity compartmentalize their lives, such that their evenings are spent thinking about their next golf game, for example.
      We do not understand our younger colleagues for a number of reasons. First, very few of us graduated with the same debt burden that these folks have. That is a major game changer in terms of career choice and job satisfaction. Second, although we felt like we had a lot to learn, our younger colleagues have more information available so their burden is greater. Medicine is changing rapidly, both in terms of how it is delivered, and the explosion of information and technology. Whereas when we trained, there was an emphasis on the doctor/patient relationship, now there is a greater emphasis on “outcome measures” and more specialization. It is exciting and scary to see these changes. A few years, during a rapidly changing environment, can make a big difference. Thanks, as always.

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