CHEST Thought Leader Blog National Women’s Physicians Day: Women in Medicine Rising

National Women’s Physicians Day: Women in Medicine Rising

By: Roozehra Khan, DO, FCCP

2018 is looking to be the year of the woman. In the last few months there have been several groundbreaking movements that have propelled women into the spotlight. The #TimesUp and #MeToo movements have recently harnessed the collective voice of women who have suffered in silence, exposing the severity of the widespread issue of sexual harassment and systemic sexism. Compounding on the tremendous momentum of these social media movements, just 2 weeks ago, the Women’s March drew massive crowds nationally 1 year after the initial protest.

Women in medicine are organizing as well. Medicine has historically been a field dominated by men, particularly for physicians. Gender discrimination and blatant sexism aside, women in medical professions face a number of unique obstacles that make the field of medicine unwelcoming to females.

A study titled Gender Differences in Time Spent on Parenting and Domestic Responsibilities by High-Achieving Young Physician-Researchers, revealed that women spend 8.5 more hours per week on domestic and parenting activities than men, after adjustments for work hours, spousal employment, and other factors. A Medicare B fee-for-service reimbursement analysis revealed that female providers overall earn $18,677.23 less than their male counterparts, despite another study showing that patients cared for by female physicians have better health outcomes.

Doctors  - Photo by Luis Melendez on UnsplashThe predominance of males in physician roles historically has been at odds with the concept of gender parity, but today we are witnessing a generational transition as greater numbers of females than ever before are pursuing medical degrees and leadership roles in physician spaces. For the first time in history, female medical school matriculate rates surpassed 50%, to 50.7%. Notably, The American College of CHEST Physicians has had three female presidents in the last 10 years, with a President-Designate Dr. Stephanie Levine soon to come, consistent with national ratios of critical care female physicians at 30% in the United States.

Today marks the third annual National Women’s Physician Day, celebrating female physicians everywhere on February 3rd, the birthday of Dr. Elisabeth Blackwell, the first female MD in America. It’s encouraging to see such progress; however, our work is far from done and continuous discussions about gender in medicine are imperative to creating a collaborative environment.

In an article entitled You’re Too Small To Be A Surgeon” and Other Things Women in Medicine Hear, student doctor Jamie Katuna describes several anecdotes. The most striking one is a male medical student who describes frequently being mistaken for the attending physician, despite his female attending wearing a long white coat with MD clearly embroidered on it. Katuna poses an important question, “Is there a female attending physician out there who has NOT had this experience?”

The answer, sadly, is probably not. However, incidents of gender discrimination are hopefully becoming less frequent. Personally, I haven’t had it happen in the last few years. I am fortunate to work at a large academic center with many young physicians, reflecting a more balanced demographic of age, gender, and race. My neurosurgical critical care service consists of three female attendings out of four. My pulmonary critical care department is 40% female attendings, reflecting a higher percentage than the national average of female critical care physicians. We still have a lot of work to do, but it is also worth taking a moment to appreciate just how far we women physicians have come.

So, here’s to us: to our progress. To knowing what generations of strong female physicians have endured before us, and to still persevering despite all the challenges. To know that we are improving, slowly but surely. To know that our children will continue to pave the way for gender equality. Lastly, to know that there is still much work to be done and discussions about equal opportunity to be had.

Roozehra Khan, DO

Dr. Khan is happily practicing critical care, teaching as an assistant professor at Keck School of Medicine at USC and blogs about workplace gender dynamics in health-care at