If I tell you to imagine a doctor, you will directly picture a man, whereas if I tell you to think of a nurse, your mind will immediately perceive a woman. Gender stereotypes that we have been fed through society, social media, family members, and friends, often unconsciously predispose choices in careers and professions, and they have a significant influence.
Growing up, my parents were always supportive of my studies and encouraged me to constantly work harder and prove my worth, so I can get into a good university. After getting accepted into the American University of Beirut, to major in Biology following the pre-medical track, my parents continued to be my top supporters, and never stopped believing that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to. However, unfortunately, society has not proven itself to be as supportive as my family.
When I graduated from high school, my relatives and parents’ friends asked what my plan for my future was and what I was considering studying in university. Not to my surprise, a lot of them had disappointing reactions. They mentioned that studying medicine was hard and its degree requires many years, which would mean that when I graduate, I would be too old to get married. Others told me if I were a doctor, I would not have enough time for my husband or kids. Many suggested that, if I really wanted to work in the medical field, I should choose nursing instead, since it is “easier for women.” Although these responses bothered me, they never got to me. As a matter of fact, I grew up to become a strong feminist who was keen on challenging gender stereotypes and proving them wrong, and I was not going to let anyone change my mind.
As a woman in medicine, a sometimes discouraging environment is not only what you deal with. In your pre-medical years, your years as a medical student, as well as your years during residency, you constantly need to push yourself more than men do. Women in STEM are constantly working on proving their worth, and must put way more effort than men in order to fight any prejudices that their superiors could use against them. They must continuously resist showing emotion, they must be more assertive to be heard, they need to do everything they can to show that they are just as – if not more – capable than the men they are competing with.
In the world of medicine, statistics has proven that most medical doctors continue to be men, while most nurses and medical lab workers are women. According to an article in the Washington Post, “in the medical profession overall, male doctors still outnumber female doctors, 64 to 36 %, according to 2019 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation” (Searing, 2019). The difference is also present in fields of specialization. The article explains that, and according to the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), some specialties such as orthopedic and neurological surgery are greatly dominated by men (respectively 85% and 82%), whereas others mostly consist of women, i.e., gynecology and pediatrics (respectively 83% and 72%). This goes back to gender stereotypes that push women to take on fields of specialization which require less hours of work or less years of residency, so that they have more time to take on their “job” as wives and mothers properly.
Although this could be a personal choice or opinion to consider, men are not asked to evaluate other life decisions, when venturing into nursing or medical school, or when choosing their field of specialization. Society should not expect women to be more capable of balancing their wife-mother-doctor roles than their male counterparts.
However, regardless of the fact that a significant difference still exists between men and women in the medical world, a new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) states that women make up the majority of students in medical schools in the US; composing 50.5% of medical students, while the other 49.4% are men (Searing, 2019).
Thankfully, social media plays an important role in raising awareness, especially with young adults fighting for gender equality in the workplace and challenging gender stereotypes. Over the past few years, women have been encouraged to pursue degrees, and increasingly, more undergraduates are choosing STEM majors, thus breaking societal expectations. “In 1970, women made up 38% of all U.S. workers and 8% of STEM workers. By 2019, the STEM proportion had increased to 27% and women made up 48% of all workers,” according to an article by the United States Census Bureau (Martinez & Christnacht, 2021).
Even though women have made huge progress in defeating the limiting gender stereotypes, they still have a long way to go. Women are still expected to prove their worth, distances away from the starting line at the race to successful careers in all specializations.
By Nathalie El Zein
Nathalie is a biology major at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon, following a pre-medical track with the hopes of pursuing a medical degree. Other than medicine and biology, some of her passions include reading and writing as well as music. She enjoys writing and discussing about real-life issues that concern our current society, such as feminism and gender issues. Philosophy topics that interest her include existentialism and the absurd.