September 12, 2022
By Mitali Shah, Drexel University College of Medicine
Being a woman in medicine means different things to different people. For some, it means finding their own niche in a historically male-dominated field. For others, it means providing comfort and care to other women in their most desperate times of need. For most, it means being able to inspire future generations to pursue whatever they dream of, free of the shackles of labels, discouragement and doubt.
Before I began my clinical rotations this year, being a woman of color in medicine was all of those things for me. It was a way for me to pave my path, with passion leading the way. It was a way to heal those around me by practicing and preaching compassion and empathy toward every single patient I came across. It was a way for me to prove people who believed that women couldn’t succeed in this field wrong, and hopefully inspire others through my journey. Before my rotations began, being a woman in medicine was an amalgamation of all these big ideas and grand thoughts. However, I wasn’t officially in the hospital setting yet, and that meant that being a woman in medicine was more abstract – a composite of my ideas rather than my experiences.
One day on my pediatrics rotation, I walked into a little girl’s room to examine her before our morning rounds. It was the first time I was meeting her, so I sat down with her, introduced myself and complimented the drawing she was working on. She took one look at the stethoscope around my neck and excitedly asked if I was going to be her doctor for the day. Without even waiting for a response, she started telling me that she wants a stethoscope of her own one day too. I smiled and felt a sense of pride but didn’t think much of the interaction after that; after all, rounds were starting soon!
It wasn’t until my internal medicine rotation that I thought of that young girl once again. I was told by my attending to go see an elderly woman in the ICU. “She’s quite sick,” I remember him saying, almost as a warning. I remember feeling nervous as I was walking to the unit – I wanted to be a source of comfort to her but wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make any difference considering her circumstance. I walked in the room, and I was greeted with, “Oh hello, doctor!” I explained that I was just a medical student and rather than sounding annoyed or disappointed, she responded with, “So you’re going to be a doctor soon?” After talking with her and finishing the physical exam, I was ready to leave, but she smiled and told me she was so glad I had come to see her. She was proud that I would one day be a physician handling my patients the way I had today. I saw the little girl from my pediatrics rotation in her – the same smile at seeing me walk through the door, the same sense of trust in me.
I realized that very day that being a woman in medicine doesn’t necessarily have to be a million complicated concepts and philosophical notions like I had thought before. It really is as straightforward as making a patient smile on their most difficult day. It is as pure as seeing a little girl smile ear to ear when you introduce yourself. It is as simple as having a patient see themselves in you.