Being a Woman Doctor in a Man's Industry: How We Have Survived
Last week I was in a session with one of my coaching clients, a successful black female physician who is the owner of her own practice. As we were concluding she made a statement to me, "I feel like medicine has just sucked the feminine right out of me." Immediately I related.
As women in the professional world, we are always in competition with men whether we are aware of it, want to be or not. Even before medical school, when we declare that we want to become physicians (whenever that is), there is an energetic shift in what we must do to get to our desired destination. We must "step up our game", "suck it up" during the tough times, "never let 'em see you sweat", be "strong" and "show them what you're made of". In residency or even medical school, think about how many times you were on the verge of tears, yet you choked them back and pushed on, because being "emotional" is viewed as weak. Perhaps you have found yourself needing to cry on someone's shoulder to be comforted, yet were afraid to reach out. This is the conditioning of our industry. But, when we as women operate from masculine outside of where it is required (and in medicine, sometimes it IS required), it can cause tension in relationships, both with our friends, and in romance. Ultimately dealing with these types of internal conflicts can lead to physician burnout. You see, suppressing our feminine selves is one of the consequences we experience when we are constantly up against gender bias; and gender bias over time can become a major contributor to burnout.
"Man up" we are told. But we are Women! Aren't we aloud to be feminine?
I remember being in residency, and feeling this sense of isolation in times of emotional turmoil. You see my conditioning actually began BEFORE medical school. I knew something was wrong, b/c while my performance was peak, I was experiencing a sense of numbness, disconnectedness, and sadness. Yet, I did what most of us do, I kept pushing, and that sadness turned to depression. Deep down I knew my expression was being suppressed, but I had no outlet for it. So, I just kept pushing, and one night I found myself post call staring down the barrel of a bottle of Percocet that I had from a knee surgery a few months ago, thinking…. “I can’t go on like this” I picked up that bottle…I opened it and stared at those pills for what seemed like forever. By the grace of God, I had a moment of clarity. I was not going to let this battle between who I was and who I was expected to be take me out. So, I did something that most doctors may not have done in that moment... picked up the phone. It was the day I knew something had to change. I had to learn how to allow for my "feminine" to be honored and comforted. It has been quite a learning process recognizing and learning to balance the masculine and feminine and in the process I've had plenty of casualties (especially in the world of dating and relationship). However, today, knowing and operating inside of that balance has been the key to my success in business and in life.
What is the difference though? How can you tell when you are operating from your masculine vs feminine side and why does it even matter?
Just like I did during residency, there are countless women in the medical industry suppressing their full expression (of masculine and feminine) daily. The constant having to "be what the world is expecting" slowly eats away at the spirit if not dealt with leading to decline in physician well-being, and eventual burnout. If you think about this from more of an anthropological perspective, instinctually masculine and feminine energy are very different. One is authoritative, competitive, protective, directive, independent, aggressive, non-emotional. Think cave man: the cave man is driven to keep his family alive through hunting to provide food and protecting his family from harm. The other is nurturing, empathetic, tender, patient, receptive, flowing, and sharing. Think cave woman: the cave woman has to keep her family alive by keeping them nurtured, cared for and sheltered. Both are for the same intention, but they are wired specifically for their cause. Let’s be clear, we have evolved. I'm not saying that women should be ALL feminine, and men should be ALL masculine. We are not talking so much about gender roles here. We are talking about the internal space from which you operate. Being aware of this space, having a healthy BALANCE between the two, and knowing when to utilize more of one than the other are what makes us effective in work, relationships, and in our lives. When we are at work seeing patient, leading teams, teaching residents and students, there is a larger component of the masculine that is required (although keeping the feminine present is valuable and can enhance your performance in these areas as well). The key is turning it off when we don't need it (and even though we've been conditioned to think we always need it, we do not always need that side of us in the foreground).
This is not a woman doctor phenomenon
Clearly, this isn't isolated to women in the medical field. However, with the conditioning we have been exposed to in our training coupled with the added stresses and pressures we face in our industry we are constantly pushed to be more in our masculine space. Moreover, these factors can make it nearly impossible for us to turn the "off switch" which can have a detrimental impact on our personal lives. Notice when you are having what seems to be "power struggle" in your relationships (not just with men, but with whomever), from where are you operating? From where are they operating? There you will find the struggle and YOU have the power to shift the energy in that moment. We don't have to be a slave to society's conditioning of what a woman in corporate America is supposed to be. Gender roles aside, the value of feminine qualities has been underestimated and under appreciated. We can begin to break those antiquated ideas, and bring power to what it means to have the two sides operate in partnership rather than in competition with each other. In doing that, we can move towards more fulfillment in our careers and in our lives.
Maiysha Clairborne MD
Be A Part of the Solution. If you like it, Please Share it. And If you would like to learn more about how we create breakthroughs for physicians, visit www.thestressfreemd.com. Maiysha Clairborne MD is an integrative medicine physician and physician wellness coach, and is the author of The Wellness Blueprint and Eat Your Disease Away.