An emergency medical technician provides care to people on what is likely the worst day of their lives. EMTs endure rigorous training to become certified, from hours of book work learning the particulars of the human body to hours on their hands and knees practicing their assessments in lab. EMTs sacrifice their own social lives, spending upward of 16 hours a week in class alone, to become the best providers possible. As an EMT myself, I understand the desire to put others’ needs above my own. With over 70 percent of emergency medical service providers being male, the field is still very much a boy’s club.
It is no secret that Binghamton University has a large pre-health program, one that is filled with intelligent and capable women who will go on to become the healers and the scientists of tomorrow. For many, their first look into the medical field will come immediately following graduation and the reality of gender disparities in health care careers can come as a shock.
The disturbing reality is that even in 2017, there are still people who are blatantly and unapologetically sexist. A study done by Annals of Internal Medicine showed that reported gender discrimination in various medical schools’ faculty ranged from 47 percent in the youngest participants to a staggering 70 percent in older participants.
In just one year as an EMS provider, I have become all too familiar with sexism. A CPR and first-aid class that I taught brought me face-to-face with misogynistic rhetoric. During a break between sessions, my students, a group of 20 middle-aged male construction workers, were complaining among themselves that they were hungry and wished they had some lunch. One of the men turned to me and said, “Well, I thought this little lady would be making us some sandwiches for lunch or something, we are hungry!” which elicited a flow of chuckles from his colleagues.
After pouring my heart into teaching my students a life-saving skill, while in full uniform, I felt as though I were a mere joke to them, my only purpose being to make their food. I resorted to remaining straight-faced and returning to my lesson plan, silenced and unwilling to speak out. A simple solution to this tough situation is to speak up for a colleague if you witness their abilities being undercut via discriminatory comments. This is an unfortunate and ugly side to the job, but knowledge of its existence can help to prevent it and aid in formulating an appropriate response.
Another harsh reality of health care is the deficit of female mentors: more than 85 percent of women in health care report that they lack a female mentor. Without strong female role models, it can be hard to persist through gender discrimination. Personally, I never realized the impact that my presence in EMS has on other women and I am reminded every shift that female representation in medicine matters to those who think it is not possible. In fact, women constitute nearly 80 percent of health care and social assistance workers, with the number of health care-related jobs expected to increase in the millions between 2012 and 2022.
So to all of my fellow female classmates that will soon be entering health care, know that you are not alone in your journey. There are three unconditional truths for your career as a woman in medicine: one, there will always be someone ignorant enough to doubt your competence based solely on your gender; two, that you will always be determined enough to brush it off and continue rising; and three, there is an endless supply of men and women who want to see your success, lean on them in times of doubt. Sure, your path through medical training might be more difficult, but it will make your success even sweeter.
Morgan Manganello is a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience.