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He for SheMD: How to Be an Ally

I'm a male MS2, and I don't want to contribute to gender inequity in medicine. Until recently, I was content to believe that gender inequity in medicine is a systemic issue that can only be handled from the top down. I was happy to assume my position of powerlessness as a medical student. After all, I can't speak up to someone that controls my grade. I can't turn down an opportunity in favor of supporting a female colleague because I've got my CV to worry about.

In a recent presentation from Dr. Mike Gisondi, I saw a TIME'S UP healthcare video, and I realized these things don't go away once you're a resident or faculty. There's always another promotion, another boss, and another opportunity. So I want to push back on what I previously believed, and what another medical student Tricia Rae Pendergast suggested, that there isn’t much we can do as students. I want to explore what I can do as a medical student to be #HeForShe.

I know I’m not alone in wanting to know what I can do to be better. Two years ago Dr. Jim Eubanks (then medical student) suggested that in order to foster a culture of inclusion in medicine the first step is educating yourself on diversity in medicine. Of course, the first step is to recognize the problem, but learning about these shortcomings in medicine can be frustrating without any knowledge of how to work against it.

I trawled through the HeForShe hashtag to find examples of how male medical students can be #HeForShe. I’ll share what I found, but I want to think of these ideas as a starting point. I have a feeling that there are many more examples out there. So if you’re reading this and have another idea, or an example of a frustrating experience with a medical student as a woman in medicine, please leave a comment below to help us be better! Shrugging this issue off as something to be addressed only by people in positions of power, is not enough.

See something, say something.

As a medical student you might find yourself in the perfect position to be an objective bystander. Offering feedback can be difficult, especially to superiors, but it might shed light on a blindspot. Maybe you don’t have the confidence to say something in a faculty meeting like this medical student, there’s still a lot you can do.

Use your voice as a medical student.

Did you know there’s a lot of data that shows that there is a difference in the language used in letters of recommendation based on gender? Dr. Julie Silver has some suggestions that medical students can take to be better sponsors of women in medicine that considers this difference. First, make sure you recognize the presence of this bias when filling out evaluations. Second, even as a medical student you can nominate residents, fellows, and attendings for awards. Awards may be given by your school, or a national organization.

Don’t leave it to your resident or attending to correct a patient that assumes you are the doctor.

As a male medical student you have an inherent privilege. Despite your short white coat and introducing yourself as a student doctor or medical student, patients will assume that you are the doctor. When this happens, correct the patient, and reinforce the roles on the team. I’m in my second-year of medical school, so I’m not flushed with these experiences, but I can imagine it might feel like it’s not your place to speak up first, but based on Dr. Giles’ story it is the perfect time to step up.

Keep unconscious bias in check.

Most people have heard this riddle. The riddle works because of our unconscious bias. If you can prevent yourself from automatically assuming that a man in a group of doctors is the attending, you will actively work against your unconscious bias.

Together Everyone Achieves More

I think it’s great to remember that including someone else in an opportunity is a surefire way to make a project more successful. Whether you are starting a club, working on research, or organizing an event, consider making a list of some classmates you’d want to get involved with. Make sure that list isn’t only other men!

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