Janie Cheaney: Take your own place

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, September 19th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Janie B. Cheaney now on how  your perspective can either hinder you or help you.

JANIE CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Here’s a little vignette from higher education: In the surgical theater of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching facility of Harvard medical school, several portraits of prominent physicians will be removed from their current grouping and placed elsewhere. The decision is more political (for lack of a better word) than aesthetic.  The doctors are white and male, and all that massed maleness is supposedly intimidating to women. Not that any female residents have complained; it’s a pre-emptive move.

The men so honored are described as pioneers of medicine, including Dr. Harvey Cushing, the “father of neurosurgery.” Also Dr. William Councilman, a beloved teacher and the first pathologist of the hospital.  Most of them go back to the days, not long ago, when the profession was all but exclusively male. Imbalances like these are usually explained by one word only—discrimination. Discrimination was certainly a factor—only a few generations ago, women were considered less rational, intelligent, stable, and hardy than men.  But there were other reasons for the dearth of female doctors. Practically speaking, only a hundred years ago it would have been hard to be married (as most women were) and a full-time physician. It would have been impossible to bear and raise children (as most women did) and work as a full-time physician. One requirement of pioneering is being first to show up for it, and sticking around long enough to make your mark.

Now many more women are involved in medicine because they can be.  They can even be pioneers. The way to encourage them is not to remove the old pioneers from places they earned, but to encourage new pioneers to carve our places of their own.  There’s more than one way to look at an assembly of faces that seem to be too much of one color or sex. You can see those white-coated authority figures, however pleasant they appear, as old curmudgeons keeping you down–even if many of them are currently six feet under.  Or you can see them as leading the way. For you. The former is self-centered and limiting: history really isn’t about you, sister. The latter is inspirational and challenging–you go, girl! That surgical procedure developed by Dr. X, that tool designed by Dr. Y, sets you up for taking the next step forward.  Rather than feel intimidated by them, you have the opportunity to learn from them.

The main hallway of my local hospital is lined with photos of the resident physicians. Most of them are male, but more and more women are taking their places among them. That will continue, and the pioneering business will continue as well—but not by stomping old pioneers out of memory.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

Ilmicrofono Oggiono/Creative Commons

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