Toxicity in the Workplace - You’re Not Imagining It

As doctors, we are trained to tough it out. Med school and residency are grueling on purpose. We make life-or-death decisions every day, and medicine is not for the faint of heart.

But today I want to address the fact that many, many medical workplaces are toxic - especially for female doctors. You are not imagining it.

There’s this little gem that I recently ranted about on Facebook:


My first reaction was, OH NO YOU DIDN’T!!

The truth is that female doctors are paid less when all other factors are equal. And that is WRONG.

Here’s what’s even more upsetting: there are female doctors who agree with him. (One of them is a close friend of mine.)

We have been so brainwashed by the every-man-for-himself, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, toughen-up culture of medicine that we can’t even see when our own situations are toxic.

Let’s look a little deeper at the subtler sexism of Gary Tigges’s words - “most of the time, their [female doctors’] priority is something, social, whatever.” There’s a TON of research on the fact that despite lots of growth in the past few decades, women still shoulder the bulk of “emotional labor” outside the workplace - cooking, cleaning, childcare, organizing the household, remembering to schedule pediatrician appointments, remembering who has pajama day at school, and all the details of family life that require attention. (And, oh right, growing babies inside our bodies and then giving  birth to them and feeding them to keep them alive.)

So yes. When you’re a mother/doctor/badass, your family IS a priority. And we should not be penalized for that.

Then there are the sexist situations that show up randomly in your workplace.

When I was in family medicine, my (all male) colleagues asked me to organize staff gifts at Christmas. (Before I came on board, their wives used to do it.)

When I walk into an exam room in the ER, people often ask me if I’m the nurse or student.

When staff uses my first name instead of Dr. Weisman

When nurses get out all equipment needed for an I&D for my male partners and leave me hanging saying, “Oh did you need help?”

There’s a lot that needs to change in medicine. And my rallying call to all you mother/doctor/badasses out there is this: we need to be healthy enough ourselves so that we can work for the sea change that medical culture requires.

Because things can’t stay like this!

I don’t want you to feel discouraged. I want you, today, to recognize that if you’ve encountered some of this toxic culture, it is NOT normal.

Good. Now that you know that, I want you to take some time for yourself today. Even if it’s a 10-minute break for a cup of tea, or a walk around the hospital, or a 15-minute cat nap in your car. Do something to rest and refuel. ‘Cause we need to be strong to make the changes our industry needs.

If you’ve been struggling with toxicity in your workplace, sign up for a free 60-minute colleague-to-colleague call. I’ve heard pretty much everything and I can help advise you on how to handle it (including when you might need to seek legal advice or file a complaint with HR).