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Why I Believe the Time's Up Movement Should Extend to Female Patients

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While I watched the Golden Globes on Sunday, I realized it was quite a night for female empowerment. As a young woman, it was important to see the potential for change regarding female inequality and to watch people standing up for what is “right” in our society. When Oprah gave her powerful and inspirational acceptance speech and called for a “new day” for women, I noticed I became emotional. I have never been a victim of sexual harassment or violence, but as a women who has struggled for 19 years with chronic pain, I feel I have been a victim of inequality by the medical field, particularly male doctors.

With these feelings in mind I found myself applauding along with the celebrities who want to embrace this change because I too feel a part of the Time’s Up Movement, but in a way that hasn’t been recognized yet. The Time’s Up Movement focuses on female inequality in the workplace, harassment, violence, equal pay, etc. But could it potentially expand to include women who are not treated as equals by the medical profession, and often male doctors? I would like to believe it could and should.

Research shows on average that women have to wait longer in emergency rooms to receive pain medication than men. How unjust is that alone? How about the endless experiences women have with convincing male doctors that the pain they feel is real? The sad truth remains: Many years ago women were labeled as “hysterical,”and that thought has seemingly not entirely dissipated in the medical profession. Many doctors still make women feel like they are overly emotional and if they would “just calm down,” their pain would not be as severe.

As a chronic pain patient, so many instances come into my mind from when I was a teenage patient to now as a woman in my 30s. Recently, I had a male doctor say to me, “Your pain isn’t so bad, I have patients who are a lot worse. A lot of pain is in your head. You can do whatever activities you want to do.” Now, the medical evidence reveals quite the contrary. My MRI showed I have a tear in one of my lumbar discs that’s pressing right on the nerve root. This makes my nerve pain from my back very bad, and it is very real.

I was astounded the doctor could even say this to me aloud. Would he have said this to a male patient? I highly doubt it. Or how about the times when doctors have said to me (and I’m sure countless other women patients), “Are you feeling anxious or depressed? How about an antidepressant?” These kinds of encounters lead women to not getting properly diagnosed, making them feel inadequate or like they must be “making it up.” When the truth is, the shame should fall on these kinds of doctors. By not listening to a woman and thinking it is “in her mind” and she is “over-reacting,” the medical profession is failing a gender. This is the definition of gender inequality.

So, just as the shame is being called out on Hollywood predators and harassers, it is time to call out the medical doctors who are shameful in their actions towards women. I believe the Time’s Up movement can include this important issue and perhaps a national conversation can be sparked on this matter of inequality. I want to live in a society where women can be treated as equals to men by doctors. A woman has a right to be heard and for her pain to be taken as seriously as a man’s. Therefore, to the doctors who still treat women as if they are “hysterical”: Your time is up.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Photo via Minerva Studio on Getty Images

Originally published: January 10, 2018
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