Male allies encourage female physicians to ‘recognize their greatness’
The way Mark Loehrke, MD, sees it, women in medicine face two types of obstacles in the workplace.
One is the “big picture” problem of inequity in academic and clinical leadership promotions. The other is what Loehrke called the “daily torture” of paternalistic attitudes from male colleagues, supervisors and even patients.
“Some of these small things happen almost every day, like being asked if they are a nurse or a social worker,” he said in the latest installment of Women in Oncology’s “Oncology Allies,” a HeforShe effort. “The bias women still deal with on a daily basis from attendings, colleagues and patients is incredible. That’s the kind of slow drip that demeans and belittles women.”
Loehrke, chair of the department of medicine at Western Michigan University, also previously served as program director for internal medicine at WMed. However, after some time in this role, Loehrke decided it was best not to try to maintain both jobs.
He also decided that his replacement should be a woman.
“When we started our medical school, I was named as the chair and I felt very early on that I would not be able to continue to be a chair and program director,” Loehrke said in an interview with Healio. “So, with great intention, I asked one of my female faculty colleagues, Dr. Joanne Baker, to take over as program director. Then when it was time to select an associate program director, we also chose one of our female faculty members, Dr. Susan Bannon.”
Loehrke shared with Healio three ways in which he tries to support, encourage and recognize the accomplishments of his female colleagues.
Recruitment of women into oncologic leadership ideally begins at the residency level, according to Loehrke.
“I think it is important to recruit women very strongly and try to get them into your program,” he said. “That’s giving them a first shot at achieving their goals. Beyond that, when I look at our faculty, I try to have a good balance of men and women, so we can have lots of women to serve as role models for our residents and medical students.”
Support in school
New medical school students — both men and women — may not be fully prepared for the daunting challenge they have undertaken. Loehrke said when he addresses these students at white coat ceremonies, he tries to send them a supportive message.
“One of the things I emphasize is that exactly 50% of the students I am speaking to are going to be in the bottom half of their class, and they’ve probably never been in the bottom half of any class before,” Loehrke said. “It can erode their confidence. I think what we need to do for medical students in general — and particularly women, perhaps — is to make sure that they recognize their greatness.”
Loehrke said while continuing academic education is essential, it also is important for physicians to remain knowledgeable about the issues of women in the medical field.
“I think it’s something that requires continuing education, continued effort and continued vigilance, because this fight is far from over,” he said.
Loehrke cited a recent virtual meeting he attended about sexism and bias in medical education.
“It was so eye-opening to me how much bias is still out there, how much these women are still fighting against,” he said. “One of the points that came up a lot was how much it is appreciated when allies step in and correct, for example, a patient who tells a medical student, ‘Well, you can’t be a medical student; you’re too pretty.’ It’s helpful for an ally to say, ‘No, actually, this is a medical student, and she’s going to be a brilliant and wonderful physician.’”
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Mark E. Loehrke, MD, can be reached at email@example.com.