Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Doctor Mommie all'Italiana

One evening, after finishing my day at the University, I sat in the surgical floor in front of beeping heart monitors writing out the post-op orders for the critical-care nurses. We were busy, as usual.

Half way through my night shift, a few female surgeons walked in to the floor. They had just completed a successful surgery, and it turns out that this time, the surgical staff was an all-woman crew, which in itself is fairly normal and would have gone by unnoticed, except that in this case they were all PREGNANT doctors; the anesthesiologist, the surgeon, the surgical staff... all pregnant. All very, very pregnant!

In fact, the only man in the operating room was the patient. We laughed about it for a second, and went on with our work.

Female surgeons, to me, is a normal part of American medicine, which is quickly becoming normal in the rest of the world as well, even if people refuse to acknowledge it.

Sognatrice, from Bleeding Espresso
, was kind enough to e-mail me the article "L'allarme dei medici: troppe donne" which states that within 10 years, 8 out of 10 Italian doctors will be female.

Like the previous article, the newspaper's male tone to a serious issue honestly caught me off guard and I had to stop and ask myself if they were kidding. An Italian article from a female perspective? Of course not, that would be too kind! The article actually turned it all around and said that within 10 years, only 2 out of 10 Italian doctors will be male.

It gets better, the article opens with a rhetorical question: "Men, can you imagine going to a female urologist?" (Hmm, shock value. Go ahead. Scare your male readers. Actually, why should they be scared? After all, women allow men to deliver their babies).

A male physician then voices his concern that in the near future the male-only (!) specialties could be in crisis.

Why? because we are entering a new medical reality in which "doctors wear skirts" and "nurses wear pants". Naturally, females will prefer "soft medicine" like pediatrics instead of "hard medicine" specialties like surgery, because the surgical floor cannot accommodate "family hours and pregnancy".

Therefore, "Hippocrates' art is in danger", and to counter-act this, they should set in place standards to ensure quality of care.

I sense a nostalgic tone when they complain that the good ol' ways are in danger of extinction. This sounds as if it was written last century!

Meanwhile, a female physician admits that patients call her "ma'am" instead of "doctor" and react negatively when they realize she will be their doctor.

Is this just a journalistic spin?

Today the Italian medical students are 60% female, and the number is expected to rise to 80% female.

Yes, that's interesting, but if females beat out "competent" male peers in completing medical school, doesn't this prove that they are more competent? would you rather stop them? or are men just refusing to enter the medical field? This is another bigger issue for another day.

Immediately, on top of the question of what set this trend, several other points stood out quite clearly; repercussions of "a pink medical field" in Italian society, the male perspective, the female perspective, the patient perspective, quality of care, a possible change in admission's protocol to even out the ratio, of course, cultural issues and my own experience through all of this. Each side, important in its own right, makes up the over-all complex picture.

This is a learning experience for me, and you can probably see my surprise. This is why I love to live abroad so much, each day shows me a new reality, thus forcing me to face new cultural phenomenons that I never imagined possible, and rethink "normal" from a new perspective.


Kataroma said...

That article IS incredibly sexist however, unfortunately, this kind of sexism seems socially acceptable here. In the US I'm sure that the writer of that article would have been massacred on the internet but here it's pretty normal.

Well, you want to experience cultural difference - so here it is!


sognatrice said...

I'm so glad you wrote about this article. You really have to wonder when the blatant sexism will disappear. In our lifetimes? Mah.

Geggie said...

Maybe the decline in men doctors in Italy because they're all still hangin' out in Mama's house, eating her food and using her hot water and sleeping in late, instead of getting to class!

Tina said...

I'm glad there will be more women doctors, and I think it's wonderful news - I hope that a female journalist reports on it soon and puts a positive spin on things.

Maybe with more women in the hospitals, pregnant patients can be encouraged to take good care of themselves instead of being told that they are 'fat' and need to lose weight (which seems to happen in Italy, and I don't understand it).

Le donne Italiane sono brave!

And if the men can't handle it, maybe they should stop whining and mooching off of Mamma and go to medical school and get a job as a doctor. Sheesh.

Good job writing this! :-)

The Unrepentant Gallivanter said...

I think the women are the only sane people over here. This country would be even crazier without the women. Of course the Drs will all be women, because the women WORK! I just don't understand why they keep raising their men to be the way they are. They like 'em like that?

Eli Edmundson said...

I love the imagery of all the pregnant doctors!

MB said...

There is hope. Our doctor here in town is a woman and I have never heard one single man complain about it. In fact, they all say how "brava" she is. The doctor in our neighboring town is a woman too.

I'm really not in agreement with some of the negative comments about italian men though. The mamma's boy who stays at home is a stereotype and not reality. At least not based on what I've seen. Yes, many men still live at home. Some are taking care of aging parents, the others are young and can't afford to move out.

Elizabeth said...

Women doctors are more and more the norm and accepted, maybe not in urology and heart surgery, but overall.

I read another article on the subject (more female than male medical students and more female doctors in the future) and the conclusion was that this is happening because medicine doesn't pay here in Italy. If you work within the system, you are set for a future of long hours and low pay -- a perfect mix for a female profession (like education, another public service).
The boys are leaving the medical schools for greener pastures -- ones that offer a better chance of making money.

Tina said...

mb - I'm more than aware that people (men AND women) stay at home with the family for all kinds of reasons. I have lived in Italy.

And guess what? Most of my FEMALE friends in Italy, some of whom are younger than me, live on their own - some even own apartments.

My male friends in Italy who live at home, are there for various reasons. A few are for economic purposes - one of them is saving to buy a place. And hey - times are hard in Italy, economically speaking, so sure we have to factor that in.

But I know many of them who have specifically TOLD me, "Why should I move out? My cooking, cleaning, laundry are all done for me and I don't have to pay."

These are my peers by the way - Age 30 and up. And their parents are not aging or in need of care just yet.

Stereotypes exist for a reason.

just a thought...

Tina said...

Hm, I just re-read my response to mb's comment and realize that it came out sounding a tad more defensive than I had intended. Anyway, you get my drift ;-) I promise I wrote it while in a good mood. :-)

Oh, here's an intersting story about cultural differences. When I was living in Switzerland, I was having a conversation with a friend's boyfriend, who happens to be from Italy. I was telling him some of my education and career goals, and he said, "But you're probably going to get married and have children anyway, so what's the point in pursuing anything if you'll have to quit?"

Roam2Rome said...

Hey, I come from a large extremely tight knit traditional family with very clingy parents, too.

There are two separate issues, and I tried to separate them (didn't do a good job of it, I think).

Yes, the issue of why men live at home is far more complicated and I chose not to get in to it. I made quotes from the article, but my point was how easily they brushed aside women. Coming from San Francisco Bay, here, such an article is unheard of...

I guess my surprise could be labeled as "culture shock", hmmm, that means I'm very, very comfortable at home and lost my edge, again... not good.

I used to have thicker skin.

Honest :)

Roam2Rome said...

Kataroma - You got it! That was exactly my point. I guess over there it is pretty normal.

Ciao Sognatrice! Thanks for the article! Though maybe I should have just written about the issue, and not my surprise at how bilateral it was.
I'm learning still...

Geggie, hehe, it sounds like its more of an economical issue, though.

Like Elizabeth said, Italian doctors don't earn that much.

Tina, You know what's scary? The journalist WAS female (gasp!).

Gallivanter, Definitely! Italian women ROCK! :)

Ciao Eli :) It looked even cuter! Serious surgeons with big pregnant bellies :)

Thanks Elizabeth! That makes a lot of sense to me, actually :)

Tina, Yup, where I lived in Siena and Padova, everyone lived alone on apartments, but I lived on college towns, so I missed out on a lot of regular Italian experiences. Don't worry, we know sweet you :)

Over all, I'd like to say that men who love mom and respect mom so much, will be also loving and respectful husbands :)

I'd just dream the Italian press would respect us, too.