If You Can See Her, You Can Be Her

Supporting the STEMinist in your Life


By Brittany Ladson

Have you heard the word “STEMinism” before? I actually didn’t come across it until recently when I was scrolling through the social media pages of some of my favorite physicians and scientists online. Women in the STEMinism movement brilliantly combines feminism and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and have an influential impact on young women pursuing careers in healthcare and research. Through the power of social media, STEMinists can reach young girls across the country through a screen in the case they don’t have a role model in their own community. Gender inequality in medicine and STEM is a complex matter. Issues including representation, treatment, and acknowledgment in STEM affect women in their training and beyond.

QUOTES FROM STEMINISTS:

"My favorite quote has always been, 'Girls should never be afraid to be smart' [Emma Watson]. After many years of both studying and working in the field of medicine, I have seen so many powerful and brilliant women succeed. The department I work in consists of mainly female physicians, which I absolutely love. I feel proud every day to be a part of this group and to have the incredible ability to share my passion with like-minded individuals."

- Lauren Forbes, Pre-Med Student

As a new 3rd year medical student at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, I have started to see this flagrant sexism in medicine firsthand. During our third year of education, we finish in-person classes and transition to rotations at the hospital. This takes our learning from bookwork to real life healthcare implementation. In my experience thus far, issues go beyond being addressed as a nursing student versus a medical student among patients. This is something I was well prepared for; however, I didn’t expect similar pre-judgements to be made by other employees of the hospital. Worse yet, some patients offer their strongly misogynist opinions of female physicians to me without any consideration of the way it makes me feel.




QUOTES FROM STEMINISTS:

"As a woman of color in STEM, I have learned the value of uplifting others and supporting one another. We must never forget that our diverse opinions and backgrounds, help form creative solutions to a better, more inclusive world."

- Chelsie Boodoo, PhD Student



One of the most impactful experiences I had was the day before I started rotations. I needed to go to the security office to have my photo taken for my ID badge. I was greeted by two female security officers and promptly had my photo and credentials recorded. She asked what nursing school I attended, and I corrected her saying I was a medical student from Michigan State. She listened and was in agreement. When the officer handed me my badge, though, it still said nursing student on it. To me, it felt as though no matter what I said, she was going to identify me as a nursing student. It is hard for me to believe that this same mistake would have been made for a male student asking for his medical school ID badge. This was my very first interaction in the healthcare field as a medical student and, unfortunately, it was not a very welcoming one.

QUOTES FROM STEMINISTS:

"As a Latina born in a small Caribbean island, there were not a lot of role models involved in the STEM area to look up to. Therefore, no matter where you come from, defy the stereotypes and never back down on pursuing your goals. Don´t let anyone tell you otherwise, more women are needed in the STEM and health professions. For me, education, diversity, respect, and decreasing barriers for other women are the key for a better future."

- Kessia Hernandez, MD Student

Even though the first impression wasn’t the greatest, I would never let this negatively influence my experiences going forward. It wasn’t until my surgical rotation a month later that I had another memorable experience when I was asked to change a male patient’s wound packing. Since this was a potentially painful procedure, I tried to keep the patient distracted by having a conversation with him. The male patient noticed I didn’t have a wedding ring on and asked me why I was “wasting my time training to be a doctor when I would inevitably be getting married, becoming pregnant, and then be staying home with the children.” This is a very sensitive subject for me as I have profoundly struggled in past relationships, so it’s challenging for me to see myself ever getting married or having kids. Having conversations like this one reminds me of these feelings of failure. It also ruins the valuable time I have at the hospital that I use as an escape from my personal problems. It is challenging enough for me to process my own thoughts and emotions, but it was extra upsetting to be reminded of them from a patient. It’s heartbreaking to hear that some patients think my effort, time, and financial commitment to medicine is meaningless and wasteful.




QUOTES FROM STEMINISTS:

"There is a child out there that wants to be like you. Be someone worthy of their imitation."

- Kate Holmes, DO Student




Stereotypical gender roles are present in many fields outside of medicine, including the office, household, and politics. The idea of “the woman’s role” in these fields has become engrained in our society. Simply put, the man is the physician, the boss, or the breadwinner and the woman is the nurse, the secretary, or the homemaker. In medicine, it’s clearly challenging for society to recognize a female as the physician at first assumption or the male as the nurse. The public’s thoughts are reflexively opposite. Gendered jobs are going away but stereotypes are remaining. It was best said by Ruth Bader Ginsberg when asked about women serving in the political arena on the Supreme Court, “When there are nine [female Supreme Court Justices], people are shocked. But there'd been nine men, and nobody's ever raised a question about that." Similarly, it would be notable if you went to a medical clinic with a fully female physician staff than if you did a male one. Where there are issues with representation in a field, discrimination and mistreatment predictably follow.





QUOTES FROM STEMINISTS:

"This is not your practice life. You don’t get a do-over. Make the best of everyday to help reach your goals. Don’t let the adversity of others hinder you from being the best STEMinist envisionable!"

- Brittany Ladson, DO Student




In an effort to combat this 3 years ago, I created a blog “My Miles to Medicine” on Instagram and Facebook, where I document my journey as a woman in medicine. My goal is to empower other aspiring female physicians to reach their goals. By participating in regular medical student panels for high school and college pre-meds, sharing opportunities for young women to get involved, and participating in empowering social media campaigns, I hope to encourage young ladies to become the physicians they aspire to be. I was once in their shoes and I didn’t have any other female physicians in my family or community to look up to. It was hard to envision myself being a physician at times due to this lack of representation. By being an example of possibility, I hope others will feel empowered to follow through with their dreams. Like in all fields, if you see her, you can be her. Women need examples of other strong females in their field as a source of advice and inspiration. A woman’s innovative care brings a unique perspective to medicine and the health of patients relies on it.



QUOTES FROM STEMINISTS:

"Remember, you are capable of achieving your dreams. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it. So, step up to challenges, pursue innovation, and set goals and achieve them!"

- Courtney Merlo, DO Student


Good news, though! For the first time in history, women make up the majority of medical school students in the United States. Women are now 50.5% of the enrolling class of 2019. This will have an impact on the face of medicine for decades to come. We need physicians who are like their patients so the best care can be provided. Women need other women. Among these future female physicians are several of the incredible ladies featured in this blog, including Courtney Merlo, Katherine Peston-Moore, Kate Holmes, Kessia Hernandez, and Lauren Forbes. Additionally, these ladies couldn’t be the life savers they are without the effort of scientists studying the pathogenesis and drug therapies used for treatment, including research performed by Shantee Ayala Rosario, Chelsie Boodoo, and Lyndsey Reich. All of these ladies are future DOs, MDs, or PhDs. They all are future life savers, and all are game changers.


QUOTES FROM STEMINISTS:

"Well there is a Maya Angelou quote I love: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” I think the most important part of our journey through the STEM field is to find passion that will impulse our resilience. Then again, in everything we do."

- Shantee Ayala Rosario, PhD Candidate


I encourage every female medical student or PhD candidate in STEM who is reading this blog to share their experiences with the world and use the hashtag #MyMilesInSTEMinism, so we can continue to follow and encourage each other. Serena Williams said it best, “The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another. We should raise each other up.”





QUOTES FROM STEMINISTS:

"Pursue a selfless goal."

- Katherine Peston-Moore, DO Student






BRITTANY LADSON is a 3rd year medical student at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently rotating at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, MI and hopes to pursue a residency in emergency medicine or obstetrics and gynecology. She is also the vice president of operations for MSU Sci Comm. Read her Instagram feed about her journey in medicine at https://www.instagram.com/mymilestomedicine/.

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