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The duality of being a female physician

I am a female cardiologist that graduated from medical school almost 20 years ago. Although my core personality has remained constant, I have been viewed through multiple different optics. What I find most interesting is that while most of my patients would unanimously agree that I am a smart, talented, and dedicated professional, I have never achieved this level of validation from other professionals in medicine.

I stay the same, but how others view me changes, often when it is convenient. It is hard to describe this type of discrimination and gaslighting. For example, when a male or female colleague does something unethical, and I get upset, the spotlight shifts from the bad deed they did to my emotional reaction. Then, after sustaining abuse, I am viewed as hysterical, and the immoral actions are dismissed. This type of discrimination is hard to describe because, at least for me, it has been part of the unspoken medical culture.

I could react the same way to a different colleague that is willing to acknowledge inequities and be viewed as insightful and a leader. I stay the same, but my value changes from being someone substandard to inspiring the change needed in medicine and society.

The invalidation is not limited to a single gender. From my experience, individuals who benefit from the status quo may resist my thoughts and label me hysterical. Systemic gaslighting in medicine and society allows for the abuse of power and covering up poor behavior.

Fortunately, a different individual may perceive my opinions and reactions as a lighthouse shining a spotlight on the disparities and systems that allow for systemic abuse. Leaders that are willing to accept change in medicine are often the true visionaries.

I was lucky that I worked with a brilliant Caucasian male physician who specialized in amyloidosis named Merrill Benson who chose to see me as the future of medicine. He said, “She is with me,” everywhere I went with him. This was his unspoken way of saying don’t let your own biases make you underestimate her and not see that she is the future. She has the same value I have, even though she looks different, and you should treat her with respect.

I challenge all of you to consider your own biases because I stay the same, and you can choose how you want to view me. My value, however, can never be diminished.

Noel Dasgupta is a cardiologist.


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