What A Doctor Looks Like

Updated: Jan 5

Let's talk about #WhatADoctorLooksLike. Gender bias exist and is way too prevalent in our society. Dr. Sonali Mantoo shares her experiences as a female physician and the gender biases she experienced.

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As a 37-year-old woman in medicine, my experiences might seem familiar to many of you. These stories, previously disconcerting, carry immense power and potential. They are part of the collective narrative of women in medicine. By sharing them, I realize, we can raise awareness in order to make gender parity a reality.

Born and raised in Delhi, I went to Medical School in Chennai, India. After the tedious process of going through exams, interviews and immigration, I started residency in the United States. Often I was asked if I was old enough to be a doctor and more interestingly, when it was that I learned English. At 31, I started my first “real job” as a Critical Care Medicine Consultant. It was best not to bring up my age, since many of my trainees were older than me. I was often mistaken for a nurse. But there is another bias I was still waking up to: gender disparity.

A few months into my first job, a senior male physician handed me his patient list, saying he was going home early for a festival and walked away in haste. He had just asked me to do his work, without the courtesy of a request. I clutched the list in disbelief, my feet glued to the spot. “You are not a resident anymore!” barked my 36-year-old, female colleague, walking up to me. “Please read the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. There is so much we need to navigate as women physicians."

Stunned, I realized she was telling me that gender disparity is a legitimate concern! I was living in a bubble, assuming gender bias was restricted to only certain sections of society and was sorely mistaken. Several of my maternal aunts are doctors and my great grandaunt, Muthulakshmi Reddy, was among India’s first female physicians. An inspiration for both genders, she worked tirelessly for women’s rights in India. Historically, it has not even been 200 years since women entered the field of Medicine. But how long are we to play “catch up?" I love this quote by Mindy Kaling, actor and producer:

"I am so confident because my parents raised me as an entitled white male".