This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine

This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine (This Side of Doctoring) edited by Eliza Lo Chin M.D is an anthology of reflections from women in medicine. The book is a compilation of many works by women who have struggled with the demands and challenges of being in a predominantly male profession while simultaneously breaking societal norms for women in general. Due to the length of our text, we chose four pieces that exemplify the message of the book as a whole

Author Biographies

Dr. Eliza Lo Chin earned her degrees from UC Berkeley, Harvard Medical School, and Columbia University, and then went on to serve as the Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Columbia and then UCSF. Throughout the years, she has been very involved with the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), and eventually became the executive director of AMWA. Her interests focus on women in medicine and collaborating with other physicians, as seen by this anthology.  Her online biography shows how dedicated she is to women in medicine, and how she hopes to pave a brighter path for future physicians by sharing advice and stories of the past (“Eliza Lo Chin, MD”).

Dr. Sondra Vazirani specializes in internal medicine in Los Angeles, California and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area. She earned her medical degree from University of California San Francisco School of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years (“Sondra Vazirani, MD”).

 

[Dr. McCrae not pictured]

 

Dr. Marcia McCrae earned her education at Vassar College and Harvard Medical School, and completed her residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Boston. American Academy of Pediatrics certified, she worked in developmental pediatrics as partner in McCrae Medical Associates from 1966 to 1998. She also worked as a medical staff member of Reading Hospital and Medical Center for a period of time, and served on many other boards to benefit children. Other than medicine, she also enjoyed writing and flying airplanes, along with raising her three children (“Dr. Marcia Q. McCrae”).

Dr. Christina M. Surawicz grew up in a family of doctors. Though she originally wanted to be a poet, she went to medical school and built a career in internal medicine and gastroenterology. She is widely recognized as a clinician, researcher, educator, administrator, and as a mentor for medical students and faculty at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She believes women have helped to shift the teaching and practice of medicine to a better balance of personal and professional satisfaction, which allows for more women in medicine; this is seen today by the greater acceptance of parental leave, part-time work, and children’s day care (“Christina M. Surawicz, MD”).

Article Abstracts

“Introduction” by Dr. Eliza Lo Chin 

Chin explained that she compiled this book when she needed mentoring about balancing her life of being a mom and a physician. She reached out for advice from members of the American Association of Medical Colleges and others. She received an enormous response from schools, physicians, etc. It took her a while to start the project and compile everyone’s stories and letters, but she soon discovered she was not alone in her struggle to achieve the hard balance. She wanted to encompass all emotions among the stories of woman physicians, while providing guidance for those to come.

“The Only Night I Cried” by Dr. Sondra Vazirani 

“The Only Night I Cried” by Sondra Vazirani, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCLA, described her experience of becoming emotionally attached to a family and realizing her own helplessness despite extensive training. She discussed how she preferred to stay busy and avoid becoming emotionally attached to patients, but was unable to maintain distance with one particular patient. She got to know the patient through the loving friends and family who visited daily and mourned the patient along with the family.

“Teeter-totter”  by Dr. Marcia Q. McCrae 

“Teeter-totter” relates the struggle of not being able to be fully invested in both work and family at the same time. She invested herself into both at the same time, and she advised that you have to find the balance that fits you best. Family and medicine feed off each other and allow you to be a better parent and physician because of the other. There will not be one perfect constant balance, but you will learn to compensate and give more to one area at certain times.

“Scopes, Hopes and Learning the Ropes” by Dr. Christina M. Surawicz 

Christina M. Surawicz shared her top-10 list of advice she would give to younger women in medicine. The general message of the list is to prioritize, cut yourself some slack, and value the people who value you. Surawicz’s list seems to fit perfectly alongside McCrae’s “Teeter-totter” in that it emphasizes putting forth your best effort while also acknowledging your humanity.

Connections

This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine explains how  there are still few recent works published that have documented women’s experience in medicine. Two books that share the goal of proudly proclaiming the achievements of women, despite their seemingly insurmountable challenges are: Bold Women of Medicine: 21 Stories of Astounding Discoveries, Daring Surgeries, and Healing Breakthroughs and Women in Medicine: A Celebration of Their Work. All three texts discuss the enormous hurdles that women have overcome since entering the medical field beginning with pioneers like Elizabeth Blackwell (“This Side of Doctoring”).

Although these books share common themes, Chin has not been compared to other authors because she is primarily a doctor rather than an author; she compiled these stories into a book in order to share and encourage the future generations of women in medicine. One article from the Feminist Majority Foundation, “Empowering Women in Medicine”, discusses the fact that though there are positive changes being made in the amount of female medical students, that is where the progress ends. It details the wage gap, disparity in female teachers of medicine, and how medicine is still sex-segregated. This article addressed changes that still need to be made in order for women to have equal opportunity to practice medicine. These struggles and others are paralleled in This Side of Doctoring (“Empowering Women in Medicine”). 

Historical context

For most of history,  the medical profession has been male dominated going back to the 1400s in Europe where a person could not practice medicine without a license, but  well-educated women were not allowed to attend universities in order to earn their license (“Women in Medicine”). In the article, “The Personal in Professional: a 19th Century Hangover”, Barnett says:

Not only were women challenged in the press for trying to break into the professional world, but many women who wrote autobiographies in the 19th century, especially doctors and social reformers, also made moves that demonstrated that their public lives were sidelined in favor of their family lives. (Barnett)

As of the early 2000s, when Dr. Eliza Lo Chin was writing This Side of Doctoring, about 46% of graduates from medical school were women, but women only made up 26% of the physicians in the workforce according to the AMA, which was an increase from less than 8% in 1970 (“Women in Medicine”). Despite this increase, there is still a stigma against women in the workplace that creates many problems for them, along with the feeling of isolation in a field dominated by their male counterparts. Dr. Chin experienced these struggles firsthand and felt compelled to compile accounts from women at all stages of their journey in order to remove the stigma and guide future generations who will follow in their footsteps. Although it was not mentioned in the articles we read, racial prejudice is an added barrier for some women, which is a common issue within medicine. Dr. Chin was pleasantly surprised to not only have many women respond to her for the project, but to also create a network of friends (Chin xxx). There continues to be an imbalance of men and women, sex segregation, and gender role barriers, which is why This Side of Doctoring continues to be relevant. 

Reviews

There has been much positive feedback for This Side of Doctoring, a vital anthology of women in medicine. The glowing reception is expected because, although it has some historical pieces included for reference,  these challenges are faced by contemporary women when pursuing their passion of medicine. With the current issues of sex segregation and gender inequality in the workplace, modern women are still struggling to find a sense of belonging, shared experience, and common ground with their colleagues.

Publisher Weekly drew attention to the way “several pieces deal with reconciling the commitment to patients with the commitment to family life…”, which is an issue that women in medicine face (“This Side of Doctoring”). Editor Eliza Lo Chin, MD stated her wish that “…young physicians will, hopefully, find guidance as they develop in their personal and professional lives ”(Chin, xxx). This goal was not lost, as exemplified by the Journal of American Medical Association’s review that stated it was not a “critical reader on the social and political dimensions of women in medicine”, but that it was a “compendium of experiences that documents the lives of a diverse cross-section of women in US medicine” (“This Side of Doctoring”). Women fought to be a part of the workforce while contending with the strict gender roles enforced by society, but still have a long way to go. The Academic Library Book Review reiterated the need for This Side of Doctoring when noting thatcommon experiences clearly emerge, cutting across different specialties, ages, and geographic divides” (This Side of Doctoring“). 

Works  Cited

Barnett, Amanda. “The Personal in the Professional: a 19th-Century Hangover.” The New Inquiry, Rachel Rosenfelt and Francis Tseng, 20 Apr. 2017, thenewinquiry.com.

Chin, Eliza Lo. “Introduction.” This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine, edited by Chin, Oxford University Press, 2003, xxix-xxx.

Chin, Eliza Lo, editor. This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine. Oxford University Press, 2003.

“Christina M. Surawicz, MD.” Division of Gastroenterology: University of Washington, University of Washington Department of Medicine , www.uwgi.org.

“Class of 2007.” Reporter: Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Weekly Newspaper, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, www.mc.vanderbilt.edu.

“Doctor: Stickers.” Pinterest, Pinterest, www.pinterest.com.

“Dr. Marcia Q. McCrae.” The Morning Call , The Morning Call , 7 Jan. 2001, articles.mcall.com.

“Eliza Lo Chin, MD.” American Medical Women’s Association, American Medical Women’s Association, www.amwa-doc.org.

“Empowering Women in Medicine.” Feminist Majority Foundation, Feminist Majority Foundation, 2014,   www.feminist.org

“Pregnant Female Doctor Examining Brain Scan.” Free Images, Getty Images, www.freeimages.com.

McCrae, Marcia Quereau. “Teeter-totter.” This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine, edited by Chin, Oxford University Press, 2003, 180-181.

“Motherhood, Medicine, and Career Challenges.” Medscape, WebMD, www.medscape.com.

“Sondra Vazirani, MD.” UCLA School of Medicine, www.medstudent.ucla.edu.

Surawicz, Christina M. “Scopes, Hopes, and Learning the Ropes.” This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine, edited by Chin, Oxford University Press, 2003, 326-328.

“This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine.” Amazon , Amazon, www.amazon.com.

Vazirani, Sondra. “The Only Night I Cried.” This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine, edited by Chin, Oxford University Press, 2003, 96-97.

“Women Attending Medical School.” The DO, American Osteopathic Association, thedo.osteopathic.org.

“Women in Medicine: Making a Difference, Molding the Future.” Medical Economics, UBMMedia, 2 Sept. 2005, medicaleconomics.modernmedicine .com.