I was sexually harassed throughout a 4-week rotation. Comments were made on my clothing, my appearance, my ability to practice medicine as a female, and my sexuality. My physician preceptor told me to quit medicine and marry rich...on two separate days for two hours each. He also told me that "(you) should bring home a girl because then (your) parents would be happy to see you with any guy, especially a cardiologist" - this preceptor's specialty. On another occasion, I had to leave early to get a suspicious lesion checked out. He asked me to show where it was to himself and the male medical student, "unless of course it is in a vulnerable spot." Finally, near the end of the rotation, he told me that he would know if I egged his car. I think he sensed that what he did was wrong and was, in a subtle way, warning me to keep quiet.
I am a female, with a somewhat Christian background, who is a professor and chair in public health at a medical school currently operated by an Orthodox Jewish sect. The institution, which was previously owned by a local Catholic diocese, was purchased by the sect. Because I was already employed there, I was 'grandfathered' in.
Under the new owners, I have witnessed a subtle but unmistakable subjugation of both female faculty and students, and I am deeply appalled. The sect is aware of and savvy at avoiding legal intervention into their practices, and has avoided investigation.
I am writing about my experiences as a female African-American Department Chair who graduated from an Ivy League institution and trained at other the top institutions. During a meeting, the VP at my institution informed me that my high energy and eagerness was coming off as demanding. When I asked for a follow-up meeting to address his comment, I informed him of implicit bias and that if I were a Caucasian male, my high productivity would have been couched under the umbrella of being a "go-getter" and highly ambitious.
I followed up with the President regarding this VP's comment, and was informed that he really needs this to "go away" because the VP is his friend and is highly valuable. It is important to note that the entire senior leadership team are non-minority males. Decisions are being made without diverse stakeholders at the table, including decisions regarding promotion. There are severe inequities in the health professions pipeline, and, also in academic medicine for individuals in senior administrative, faculty, and leadership roles. When I spoke with the VP about implicit bias, he began to cite how many black friends he has and also brought up his sexuality.
The truth is a person can choose whether or not to disclose their sexuality to another individual, however, assumptions and negative decisions are made about me as a result of racial bias and gender bias. I cannot change being an African-American. As a black female, I am hardworking, very productive, and professional. However, if I do not engage in unprofessional jokes with the "old boys network," it is perceived as not being a team player. When I bring up issues of stakeholder diversity, it is perceived as being "overly aggressive." When promotional decisions are made, I am informed that they are diversifying by hiring a Caucasian female when highly eligible underrepresented minorities are present in the applicant pool.
There is a disconnect. There truly is a systemic disease, which needs to be addressed openly.
When I was applying to medical school last year, I made the conscious decision to talk about my experiences living with a chronic illness and how that brought me to want to work within the medical system. In one of my first interviews on the East Coast, I had an interviewer tell me that my chronic illness would impair my ability to practice as a physician and that I was going down the wrong career path.
He said this in spite of the fact that, in front of him, sat my application detailing how I had completed college and worked in the medical field for two years at that point. He said this despite the fact that there have been many physicians who have successfully worked with chronic disease, including me. I told him that I was just as able as any other applicant to be a physician; he shrugged and moved on to his next question. I left that interview in a bit of a haze - angry, frustrated, and speechless.
I withdrew my application - I didn’t want to be associated with an institution that supported ableist ideas, even implicitly. I now wish that I would have told him that his ableism hurts the trust his patients have in him, affects the treatments he prescribes, and contributes to health inequity. I wish I could go back in time and be more vocal to advocate for myself and those like me.
"Have you ever seen an uncircumcised penis?" the urologist asked me, a playful smirk on his face. At the time, I was an undergraduate shadowing and interpreting in a urology clinic. Our fifty patients that day left us rushing between exam rooms, but for a moment we were alone in his plush office.
"You know, in your... experience."
He looked at me, again with that goofy, teenage grin. "What kinds of penises?" He gripped two fingers of one hand with the fingers of his other, and motioned a glans penis protruding from a thick foreskin.
"I've never... I mean... I've... as an EMT..." I felt my face flush hot, sweat sticking under my arms, between my thighs. The urologist broke out laughing. "Just kidding, just kidding. Can't take ourselves too seriously here." We walked out of his office in the direction of our next patient. Before we walked in the room, he looked at me with that sick smile, and said: "First time for everything, right?"