A physician wrote a no-holds-barred letter about what female doctors go through.

There are twice as many male doctors as female doctors in the United States, according to some estimates.

When Suzanne Koven, a longtime physician and now writer in residence at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, was coming up as a young doctor some 30 years ago, the gap was even bigger.


Today, "women make up half or even more than half of the entering classes of many U.S. medical schools," she says of the progress. But "we still have a long way to go."

Koven recently helped a group of medical interns write a letter to their future selves. She took the chance to write a letter of her own, giving advice to her younger self.

In it, she warned a wide-eyed intern version of herself of the challenges ahead and gave the advice she wishes she'd had back then.

"When I started my internship 30 years ago, I wasn’t invited to share my hopes and anxieties in a letter — or anywhere else, for that matter," she wrote in the letter, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Better late than never.

Photo via iStock/illustration by Upworthy.

Recalling the early days of her own medical career, Koven described plenty of casual and maddening sexism:

"On your urology rotation in medical school, you were informed that your presence was pointless since 'no self-respecting man would go to a lady urologist.'

There will be more sexism, some infuriating, some merely annoying. As a pregnant resident, I inquired about my hospital’s maternity-leave policy for house officers and was told that it was a great idea and I should draft one.

Decades into practice, when I call in a prescription, some pharmacists still ask for the name of the doctor I’m calling for."



She also noted that hospitals are full of crude "bro humor" that can alienate women.

She went on to cite perhaps the most depressing statistic of all: Female physicians earn, on average, about $20,000 less than their male counterparts.

"But there’s also a more insidious obstacle that you’ll have to contend with — one that resides in your own head," she wrote. "You see, I’ve been haunted at every step of my career by the fear that I am a fraud."

"I believe that women’s fear of fraudulence is similar to men’s, but with an added feature: not only do we tend to perseverate over our inadequacies, we also often denigrate our strengths."

After years of trial, error, and experience, Koven came upon a powerful realization:

Photo via iStock/illustration by Upworthy.

"I now understand that I should have spent less time worrying about being a fraud and more time appreciating about myself some of the things my patients appreciate most about me: my large inventory of jokes, my knack for knowing when to butt in and when to shut up, my hugs. Every clinician has her or his own personal armamentarium, as therapeutic as any drug.

My dear young colleague, you are not a fraud. You are a flawed and unique human being, with excellent training and an admirable sense of purpose. Your training and sense of purpose will serve you well. Your humanity will serve your patients even better."

For as long as there have been women in medicine — and the American workforce in general — they've faced exceptional challenges.

Wage gaps, sexism, underrepresentation in leadership roles, and internal "imposter syndrome" thoughts brought about by these systemic issues have made the simple act of working difficult for women in every position and every trade.

So while Koven wrote of her experience specifically in the medical field, it struck a chord with professionals outside the world of doctors. She's been absolutely stunned by the response so far, she writes in an email.

"What's fascinating is that though the piece is a 'Letter to a Young Female Physician,' it seems to have spoken to older physicians, male physicians, and even many non-physicians — and all around the world."

"This particular vulnerability, this fear of being a fraud," she says, "is widespread apparently."

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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