Women doctors still face a frustrating gender bias. Here's how they keep moving forward.

If you had a heart attack right now, what do you think your chances of surviving would be?

Obviously that would depend on a number of factors, including age, lifestyle and medical history, but gender also plays a part. And we're not just talking about your own gender:  the gender of your attending cardiologist can have an impact too — especially if you're a woman.

According to a study that was published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a woman is more likely to survive a heart attack if her attending physician is also a woman.


Photo via Pasárgada Comunicação/Flickr.

The study was based on data collected from 1991 to 2010 with 582,000 patients. Its results suggest that women are less likely than men to survive cardiac arrest in general, but the survival rate gap between genders was largest when the attending physician was male.

However, both men and women's survival rates were higher when they were in the care of a woman physician.

Since women physicians are so adept at saving the lives of heart attack patients, you'd think there'd be a lot of them. But cardiology remains male-dominated: only 10% of cardiologists are women.

It's a frustrating reality that hasn't changed much in decades.

That said, there are inspiring women who are making their way in the field and doing their part to help other prospective women cardiologists follow suit.  One such cardiologist is Dr. Nicole Harkin of Manhattan Cardiovascular Associates.

Photo via Dr. Harkin.

Ironically, Dr. Harkin was always in the presence of a lot of women on her journey to becoming a doctor. She was at an all-girls high school when she realized she loved science and wanted to go into medicine. When she attended medical school at Boston University, her graduating class was 60% female. And when she completed her fellowship at New York University, the class was a 50/50 gender split.

Here's the thing: Dr. Harkin's experience isn't unusual.

"There’s a fair amount of women training to be doctors, they’re just not going into different specialties in an equal proportion," she explains.

Dr. Harkin postulates this may have something to do with the fact that certain areas of medicine — like cardiology — still feel like boys clubs at times. And, even though some fields can be more competitive than others, there's no reason women should feel like they don't belong there. However, because of the perpetuation of outdated stereotypes, that's exactly what happens.

Fortunately, Dr. Harkin wasn't really intimidated by her field because she was lucky enough to train in an incredibly supportive environment where there were other women fellows and mentors.

"My mentors and my strong educational background made me confident in my skills," she explains. "And my passion made me persevere."

Still, gender stereotypes pervade all aspects of medicine, often making women doctors feel like they're not regarded with the same level of respect as their male colleagues.

Photo by Martin Brosy/Unsplash.

For example, when Dr. Harkin was going through the interview process to become a cardiology fellow, she remembers feeling like some of her interviewers were trying to suss out whether or not she was planning to have kids soon.

"That definitely rubbed me the wrong way," she recalls. "I wondered if I were a man if I would’ve been asked that."

And when it comes to patient care, she can't count the number of times she's been mistaken for a nurse, especially by older men.

If that's not bad enough, according to a 2017 survey, women doctors make $105,000 less a year on average than men doctors.

Photo via US Army Africa/Flickr.

Yet, despite all that, there have been numerous studies that suggest women doctors may be better caregivers than their male counterparts because they're more likely to adhere to clinical guidelines, are more focused on preventative care, and communicate more with their patients.

In fact, communication may be an important factor in whether or not a cardiac arrest patient survives.

Dr. Harkin believes that women patients may feel more inclined to discuss their symptoms with a female doctor because there is a perception that a male doctor might dismiss or downplay them.

This could be exacerbated by the fact that the early symptoms of a heart attack can present differently in women than in men. For women, the signs of a heart attack can include jaw or shoulder pain, shortness of breath and nausea. Sometimes, it just feels like a bad case of indigestion.

It doesn't help that women appear in cardiovascular studies far less often than men, so the details around their symptoms are still less widely known. More medical studies that represent both genders equally would serve all doctors, not just male doctors.

The medical community still has a long way to go to close its gender gap, but women like Dr. Harkin are doing what they can to move the needle forward. And they're saving countless lives in the process.

Medical students graduating in Cuba. Photo via undp timorleste/Flickr.

She was a chief fellow in her fellowship program, and often spoke with other women fellows about their concerns with cardiology, the work-life balance, and what they need to do to achieve their goals.

"I think that’s huge in terms of fostering women and encouraging them to go into some of these specialties," Dr. Harkin notes.

After all, Dr. Harkin's own mentors were instrumental in her succeeding in her field.

"It fosters that sense of 'hey, I can do this too.'"

What's more, organizations like the American College of Cardiology (ACC), the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Cardiovascular Research Foundation (CRF) now have a number of women in leadership roles in order to help keep gender equality a constant part of the conversation while the field of cardiology evolves. Hopefully soon, with their guidance, the disparities in pay, family planning, and respect will be a thing of the past.

Clearly women doctors are just as competent as men doctors, and their presence within a medical community can only help that community do better by its patients. It's time they're treated like they deserve to be there.

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Photo by Gregory Hayes on Unsplash

"Can I buy you a drink?" is a loaded question.

It could be an innocent request from someone who's interested in having a cordial conversation. Other time, saying "yes" means you may have to fend off someone who feels entitled to spend the rest of the night with you.

In the worst-case scenario, someone is trying to take advantage of you or has a roofie in their pocket.

Feminist blogger Jennifer Dziura found a fool-proof way to stay safe while understanding someone's intentions: ask for a non-alcoholic beverage or food. If they're sincerely interested in spending some time getting to know you, they won't mind buying something booze-free.

RELATED: States are starting to require mental health classes for all students. It's about dang time.

But if it's their intention to lower your defenses, they'll throw a mild tantrum after you refuse the booze. Her thoughts on the "Can I buy you a drink?" conundrum made their way to Tumblr.

via AshleysCo / Tumblr


via AshleysCo / Tumblr

The posts caught the attention of a bartender who knows there are lot of men out there whose sole intention is to get somone drunk to take advantage.

"Most of the time, when someone you don't know is buying you a drink, they're NOT doing it out of a sense of cordiality," the bartender wrote. "They're buying you a drink for the sole purpose of making you let your guard down."

So they shared a few tips on how to be safe and social when someone asks to buy you a drink.

From the other side of the bar, I see this crap all the time. Seriously. I work at a high-density bar, and let me tell you, I have anywhere from 10-20 guys every night come up and tell me to, "serve her a stronger drink, I'm trying to get lucky tonight, know what I mean?" usually accompanied with a wink and a gesture at a girl who, in my experience, is going to go from mildly buzzed to definitively hammered if I keep serving her. Now, I like to think I'm a responsible bartender, so I usually tell guys like that to piss off, and, if I can, try to tell the girl's more sober friends that they need to keep an eye on her.
But everyone- just so you know, most of the time, when someone you don't know is buying you a drink, they're NOT doing it out of a sense of cordiality, they're buying you a drink for the sole purpose of making you let your guard down.

Tips for getting drinks-

1. ALWAYS GO TO THE BAR TO GET YOUR OWN DRINK, DO NOT LET STRANGERS CARRY YOUR DRINKS. This is an opportune time for dropping something into your cocktail, and you're none the wiser.

2.IF YOU ORDER SOMETHING NON-ALCOHOLIC, I promise you, the bartender doesn't give two shits that you're not drinking cocktails with your friends, and often, totally understands that you don't want to let your guard down around strangers. Usually, you can just tell the bartender that you'd like something light, and that's a big clue to us that you're uncomfortable with whomever you're standing next to. Again, we see this all the time.

3. If you're in a position to where you feel uncomfortable not ordering alcohol:
Here's a list of light liquors, and mixers that won't get you drunk, and will still look like an actual cocktail:

X-rated + sprite = easy to drink, sweet, and 12% alcoholic content. Not strong at all, usually runs $6-$8, depending on your state.
Amaretto + sour= sweet, not strong, 26%.
Peach Schnapps+ ginger ale= tastes like mellow butterscotch, 24%.
Melon liquor (Midori, in most bars) + soda water = not overly sweet, 21%
Coffee liquor (Kahlua) +soda = not super sweet, 20%.
Hope this helps someone out!

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If you do accept a drink from someone at a bar and you want to talk, there's no need to feel obligated to spend the rest of the night with them.

Jaqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, says to be polite you only have to "Engage in some friendly chit-chat, but you are not obligated to do more than that."

If someone asks to buy you a drink and you don't want it, Whitmore has a great tip. "Say thank you, but you are trying to cut back, have to drive or you don't accept drinks from strangers," Whitmore says.

What if they've already sent the drink over? "Give the drink to the bartender and tell him or her to enjoy it," Whitmore says.

Have fun. Stay safe, and make sure to bring a great wing-man or wing-woman with you.

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