Jul 26, 2010

It's a Man's, Man's World

My pants fell down today.

I was listening to the lungs of a patient, and she had a toddler, about waist high, who tugged on the drawstring of my scrub pants to tell me something. They puddled on the floor, leaving me to examine my patient in my pink polka-dot panties.

How professional.

Nobody wants to be caught with their pants down. Particularly not in an audition rotation where you are trying to prove competence and professionalism to possible future colleagues. Given that I look young to begin with, a look exacerbated by no makeup and a daily ponytail, I try to make sure that I give a professional presentation in both a tailored dress and manner. Pink polka-dots were not the look I was going for.

I dropped my stethescope and snatched up my pants, silently cursing the bastard that invented "unisex" scrubs. They are the suggested uniform of the wards, and required to enter any surgical procedure. They are an ugly green two-piece set freely dispensed from the ScrubX machine in the hall. They say "unisex" but are clearly designed by a man for a man. First of all, no woman would pick that atomic booger color. Secondly, they don't fit.

I have the option of scanning my badge and pressing "10" for a size small uniform, and "12" for a medium. I can press "10" and get pants that are huge on the waist, yet hug my hips so tight that it brings the rise and hem of the pants four inches above my socks. I can press "10" and recieve a shirt that is so big that when I bend over, you can see my belly button through the v-neck. Or, I can press "12" and get a pair of pants that easily slides over my hips but has twenty extra inches around the drawstring waist and a rise halfway down to my knees. You can see my toes through the v-neck in that shirt. Usually I opt for the "12" since I don't like things tight on my hips nor unintended capri pants, but this choice leaves me vulnerable to rogue toddler pantsings.

Men do not have these problems. They walk around confident, broad-shouldered and tall, scrubs draped gently over their physician physiques. They look like doctors, not girls wearing their father's scrubs.

I do have some scrubs that fit me. I spent about $100 a pair, and they were worth it. Designed for a female doctor, they look like clinician scrubs, not nursing scrubs, and fit every curve and height. I look like a well-polished version of myself; the tailored female equivalent to the uniforms my male colleagues wear so easily and for free.

But I can't wear them in outside of ambulatory care. Any procedure requires a hospital-issued uniform where its sterility can be verified. With almost half of new doctors being female, this "unisex" policy is dysfunctional for nearly a majority of physicians. In ob/gyn, there were only 7% female physicians in 1970; today females make up 80% of incoming obstetricians. Yet most women look like I do, uncomfortably sandwiched or swimming in an ill-fitting professional uniform.

Medicine is still a man's world. Scrubs designed for a man's form are issued to women. I've sat in many doctors lounges filled with only males, making women driver/shopper/insert your stereotype here jokes over lunch, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was there. Ugly, fat men that I have done hernia assessments on pull down the underwear and tell me to be careful, don't get turned on during your exam down there. Surgical instruments fit in a man's hand, not my small fingers. If a toddler pulled on a man's drawstring, their pants would stay up.

Aside from offensive jokes and patients with too much self-esteem, I genuinely think that our male counterparts are oblivious to the day-to-day difficulties that face a female physician. I'm sure they don't think how uncomfortable it is for pants to pull around your widest part all day, or for a male patient to leer down a gaping top. The tide of medicine is still changing; since older physicians are still in practice, females make up only 30% of doctors despite nearly equivalent numbers of males to females in medical school. And perhaps some of these challenges will change when the gender of the work force evens out. In the meantime, I think of James Brown's 1966 song...

This is a man's world
This is a man's world
But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing
Without a woman or a girl


  1. you got pantsed??? Poor fooey. At least you were wearing cute panties.

    I remember working with the preschoolers, they used to grab big handfuls of my butt when they wanted something, because 1)it was eye level and 2) it got my attention quickly.

    How much you want to bet someone would sqwuak about unequal treatment if they put womens scrubs as well as mens in the machines?

  2. Oh man Annie :( I probably would have cried. I hate all the scrubs that don't fit.

  3. I can only apologize for my gender....Dad