Recognizing women in medicine

Q&A: How the house of medicine can better support female physicians

For National Women Physicians Day, The DO talks with Sonia Rivera-Martinez, DO, about her experience as a woman in medicine.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

Feb. 3 is National Women Physicians Day (NWPD), an opportunity to recognize, honor and celebrate women doctors across the nation. It is also an opportunity to highlight issues that impact women in medicine and advocate for inclusion and equitable representation.

Although their numbers are increasing, there are still fewer women than men currently practicing medicine. Female physicians earn, on average, $2 million less over their careers than male physicians, according to a recent study in Health Affairs. This study demonstrates that there is still much work to be done in closing the gap between female and male physicians.

AOA Trustee Sonia Rivera-Martinez, DO, is a family physician and advocate for osteopathic medicine. She has previously served as the chair of the AOA’s council on women’s health issues. The DO spoke with her about the gender pay gap, NWPD and her experience as a woman in medicine. Following is an edited Q&A:

What steps would you like to see the house of medicine take to better support women in medicine?

There needs to be continued efforts in achieving payment equality for female physicians at the same level of male physicians for the same services and specialties. There also needs to be continued support in increasing the number of female leaders within health care organizations.

Sonia Rivera-Martinez, DO

Too often, women are passed up for promotions which are more easily achieved by our male counterparts. The needs of female physicians often differ from those of male physicians, and I would love to see that accommodation in the workplace be made accordingly. Lastly, we must address and resolve to end the harassment and unfair treatment that female physicians are subjected to within health care organizations by employers and other colleagues.

How has your experience as a female physician changed over the years?

Initially, it was a struggle to maintain work-life balance and find the time for self-care. My love for medicine and caring for patients was in a constant tug-of-war with my home life and wellness. Slowly but surely, I adjusted so I could enjoy work, enjoy my home life and take care of myself. This required flexibility and also the recognition of the imbalance of work versus home life. I also assessed what I could change and adjusted accordingly. I have a very loving and supporting spouse as well.

What does NWPD mean to you?

It is a day to remind us to celebrate and recognize all our personal achievements and struggles throughout time as well as those of every female physician. To remind us that at one point in history we were barred from practicing the wonderful art of medicine and that our collective strength has brought us to where we are today and will propel us to greater heights in the future.

What are some of the benefits of being a woman in medicine?

The presence of female physicians in the health care workforce provides patients with the option of being able to select a female physician if they prefer. Female physicians are great patient advocates, having harnessed experience from having to advocate for ourselves within the field of medicine. As a first-generation physician and as a woman in medicine, it gives me great pride and joy to be able to provide health care services to those who need an advocate in medicine.

What advice would you give to female medical students and young female physicians?

Be resilient, trust in yourself, accept who you are and be confident in your abilities. Look at the bigger picture when there are roadblocks in your way. Strive to be better every day, build your inner strength and don’t be afraid to make changes. If you fail, pick yourself back up, reassess and move forward.

Learn something new every day. Learn from your mistakes and use the opportunity to reinvent yourself. Be independent and know you can do this. Take care of yourself, laugh, allow yourself to be joyful and present. Show your heart and humanity as these will make you shine.

Related reading:

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The doctor will hear you now

One comment

  1. Hala Sabry

    I love Dr. Sonia Rivera-Martinez! She was one of my mentors in medical school! So awesome to hear her voice through this article!

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