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Tuesday Nov 08, 2016

Girl Power: Moving Toward Balance in Physician Workforce

I grew up thinking I could be anything I wanted to be.  

"Can I be a teacher?"

Photo courtesy of Kim Yu, M.D.

A new family physician doll personifies the idea that young girls in the United States can grow up to be anything they dream of.

"Yes," my parents affirmed.

"Can I be a police officer?"

"Of course," they said.

"Could I be president one day?"

"Absolutely," they said.

I didn't learn until later, when looking through a textbook with rows of portraits of U.S. presidents, that only men had filled that position. When I asked my parents why there had been no women presidents, they responded, "Well, you can be the first."

Today, American girls should realize more than ever that they can aspire to lofty goals.

Last year, Fatherly -- an online resource for dads -- conducted a survey of 500 children ages 1 to 10 years(www.fatherly.com) to investigate the age-old question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" "Doctor" was the most popular response for girls, while "professional athlete" was the top choice for boys. 

More girls (41 percent) than boys (32 percent) were interested in so-called STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- fields.

I experienced few boundaries as a child when it came to my future aspirations.  However, the drive and desire to be what I wanted to be was often in conflict with what I saw (or didn't see). I made an announcement to my family at age 7 that I wanted to be "a baby doctor" so that I could take care of people like my mom's male OB/Gyn did. My pediatrician was also a man, so at that point I had never seen a female doctor. In fact, I didn't meet a female doctor until I went to college.

There was no Doc McStuffins in my cartoon lineup -- or my toy box -- as a kid. So it came as a surprise when I recently saw a female family doctor doll at Target. Accessorized with a white coat, stethoscope and sphygmomanometer, the Our Generation Dolls Nicola and Meagann are the images of girls/women in medicine that my generation lacked growing up.

The toys' packaging says, "I dream to be a family doctor." These dolls could inspire my daughter's generation to be bold, comfortable and confident about reaching their highest ambitions. They also might not feel as alone as they journey in pursuit of their dreams.

Despite women making up slightly more than half of the population (50.8 percent), only about one-third of all U.S. physicians are women(www.fsmb.org). Among the younger generation of physicians, however, more women are entering the workforce. In fact, this year marked the largest increase (6.2 percent) in a decade in the number of women enrolling in medical schools(news.aamc.org).


An Association of American Medical Colleges analysis(www.aamc.org) showed that during the 2013-2014 academic year, 46 percent of residents and 47 percent of medical students were women. Women comprise a majority of residents in several specialties(www.aamc.org), including the following: family medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics and OB/Gyn. However, there are more male residents in anesthesiology, emergency medicine, internal medicine, radiology and surgery. The #ILookLikeaSurgeon social media campaign(www.womensurgeons.org) is helping bring awareness to this gender disparity.

Soon -- very soon -- girls will be more likely to see not only dolls dressed up as doctors, but also real-life women doctors who can help them with their health care needs. 

I am ecstatic that my daughter and other girls like her will have these images of women in medicine to affirm their interests and dreams. 

Venis Wilder, M.D., is a board-certified family physician who practices at a federally qualified health center in Harlem, N.Y. She also considers herself a community health practitioner working at the intersection of primary care and public health.

Posted at 05:46PM Nov 08, 2016 by Venis Wilder, M.D.

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