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Is the Term “Woman Physician” Really Necessary?

Are You Offended When You Are Called a “Woman Physician?”

Two readers have alerted me to how offensive the qualifier “woman” might be in front of a variety of other descriptors for “professional women” such as doctor, lawyer or even Indian Chief.  One wrote:  “I am woman and I think I’m pretty good at being a woman but I don’t have MSW (Master of Significant Womanhood) or a DFA (Doctor of Feminine Advancement) but all things considered, if someone wanted a professional opinion about being a woman I think I am qualified to render one.”

So strike professional women.  But are we women professionals, women physicians?  And do we still need these qualifiers?  Why not just professionals?  Physicians?  And then again chastised by another reader, “I am just a physician, not a ‘woman’ physician, just a physician.  The time is over to qualify who we are by our sex.”

Isn’t it time that we were all just physicians?  Do we talk about “men” physicians? 

The answers to these two questions are: “No” and “No.”  We aren’t all just physicians. We don’t usually qualify our discussions about “men” physicians (except maybe in research.)  And maybe we never will.  Why?  Because while we all know that it is not the job title that defines the job but the person filling that role, these jobs, for centuries or even millenia, have been filled predominantly by men.  So being a physician is a male owned operation.  It’s the default.  And even now, it is still dominated by men.

And whether we like to admit it or not, men are men and women are women.  We are very different in the way we think about the world, approach our relationships, communicate, work and play.  So, of course, in our roles as physicians we are going to be very different.  Isn’t it time to recognize, acknowledge and embrace those differences.

My answer is, “Yes the term ‘woman physician’ is really necessary.” And, “No, it is not offensive.”  Is it belittling?  It doesn’t have to be.  IF, and only if, we women take ownership of this qualifier and infuse it with our special brand of caring and giving care.  Now, I am not saying each and every woman who is a physician is more caring than any other certain man, but as a group, I have bet a lot on the capabilities of women doctors to expand the caring part of the relationships doctors have with their patients.

Women physicians have special powers that are usually kept hidden so that the men don’t find out about them.  Not only do they not understand, but we are taught in medical school that some of these talents are “unprofessional.”  And some would have us punished for behaving as Women Physicians, and not just plain, everyday, ordinary physicians.  Like Marcus Welby (too nice) or Ben Casey (too serious) or even Dr. Kildaire (too boring).   When we act like women physicians, and don’t adopt the demeanor and the tactics of men physicians, we are punished even more.  We all know what it feels like: fewer opportunities, less pay, less value, less flexibility, less satisfaction.

It’s time to turn the tables.  It’s time to proudly wear the gauntlet of the “woman physician.”  And make sure you always speak about the other kind of physician as a “man physician.”  This will let everyone know that he is who he is because he is male and you are who you are because you are not.  And let your female side, whatever it looks like, shine through.

Offensive or not, it’s necessary.  And it’s time for a change, and that change starts with you.  Need some help? Check out our free self-assessment tool kits.  Men physicians, better watch out!


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