Print Edition - 2017-02-18  |  Women Power Up

The scourge of stereotype

  • Even though their workplace is female dominated, the fact is that the most popular gynecologist in our country is a male
- Dr Arpana Neopane
Although things are better now, there is a perception among many that female doctors should be gynecologists or dermatologist or some other less prominent specialty

Feb 18, 2017-Congratulations! The Kathmandu Post is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it reminds me of my 25 years in the medical service of this country.  

It was in the end of 1992 that I returned from Calcutta (now Kolkata) with an MBBS degree. As a student of medical sciences, one appreciable thing there was the adoration Bengalis extend to a doctor. A doctor was always looked up as “Didi” or “Dada” and accorded immense respect. And I was also one of the much respected professionals. As I landed in Kathmandu, I was beaming with success and anticipating a life of a doctor with similar adulation and exaltation, if not more. 

Life has come a long way. 

I joined Bir Hospital as a medical officer of the Department of Medicine, along with group of doctors, both males and females. We joined as volunteers and were put on duty from the next day. It included two night shifts a week apart from daily ward duties. 

Salary was never an issue back then. Money and medicine never came together for our generation of doctors. We started work with only one objective in mind “to learn and be able to deliver”.  

Our country is great! 

Women have reached the height of any profession. We have a women President, a woman Speaker and a woman chief Justice. In our own profession, women have achieved unprecedented success. But in numbers, they are still only a few. 

I personally feel that it is because they are the victims of our patriarchal society. 

Every “lady doctor” will have a story to tell about their evolution in this profession. The gynecologists appear to be the lucky ones. 

Even though their workplace is female dominated, the fact is that the most popular gynecologist in our country is a male.  

I remember how a male colleague of mine was sneering and cracking joke about a senior gynecologist describing how the watchman stopped her at the hospital entrance refusing to accept that she was a doctor. 

Once when I was in Pokhara and had a small clinic near the Mahendra bridge, a patient with undiagnosed heart disease landed in my clinic. After diagnosing that she had a heart ailment and irregular heart beat (AF), I sent her to a cardiologist’s clinic for ECG. The cardiologist did the ECG but told the patient that I was a female doctor so she should be treated by him. There is not a single day that we are not ignored by people in presence of a male counterpart. Although things are better now, there is a perception among many that female doctors should be gynecologists or dermatologist or some other less prominent specialty.

When I started, there were only two or three senior lady physicians in Nepal. I didn’t realise that this was a male-dominated subject. But I am happy to say that my male colleagues never made me feel that way. 

I still remember how one of my colleagues fought with a patient for calling me a nurse. 

Time and again I have noticed that being repeated for my junior lady colleagues. I had assumed it to be due to ignorance and lack of education but at this point I would say it is sheer audacity, refusing to accept a female and having less respect for them. 

Indeed it is sad to see patients lining up to be checked with the new male doctor without an iota of knowledge, ignoring a trained lady resident. 

But as I watch my lady students strive to carve a niche in this male-dominated profession, I feel proud. Yes, females make very good and sensitive doctors. They are the ones who eventually earn patients’ loyalty. 

Nepal has taken a big leap in the 25 years. People have become aware of human rights, women rights, child rights and gay rights, they know what freedom of expression means, they understand the value or right to information, and they have realised what right to health is. 

Apparently it is due to the exposure from the international community as well as a process of natural evolution.Our medical field has also seen a lot of changes. 

The open market policy came resulted in mushrooming of many private hospitals and nursing homes—both with and without standardisation.

Along came medical colleges, with the eyes set on “their financial health” rather than patients’ health”.Health care became health industry! As business houses started producing health packages and health bonuses, the doctor of yesteryears died! 

The show was not to find a long term solution to make people healthy at home but to lure them to their products and sell them.  You were almost waiting for the people to be sick and to come to you. You were making brochures and pamphlets trying to tell that them they are all possibly sick and need to undergo tests every year to find out whether they have cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and so on and so forth. You are doing everything possible to prove them sick. 

I am yet to hear someone planning for banning tobacco from our country or stopping drugs from entering. We as women are the strongest now, and we should start this process of establishing health as what the WHO definition says: “a state of complete physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing”. 

Although there is development of technology and therapeutic intervention, it is high time we took health services to people’s doorsteps. Who else than the mothers, the wives and the grandmothers at home would take the lead and plan for a healthy tomorrow along with us the professionals in health service. We want a nation where people are aware of their health but are not fanatic about rushing to a health facility for every small discomfort.

Quality healthcare has become a norm now. Female doctors have made big contributions to its growth.  It is good to see that in spite of the hurdles, they have created their own space and made a name for themselves. They have outshined their male counterparts in male-dominated areas like surgery and medicine. They have become principals in medical colleges, prime ministers, personal physician and also the energy minister’s surgeon. They have also become the only liver surgeon and the best gastro-intestinal surgeon. Hence the fact remains “where there is will there is way”. 

Dr Neopane is professor at Kathmandu Medical College, Sinamangal 

Published: 18-02-2017 09:40

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