Female Discrimination in STEM and Everywhere Else in the World, Ever.

This is such a heated topic, fingers crossed I keep my emotions under control! May break down into tears/uncontrollable anger while writing this post. My hormones must be approaching that time of month. Or I’m just batshit crazy because I have two X chromosomes.

Nope. I’m just one of the billions of women worldwide who suffer from inequality in every aspect of the word. I’m going to start by explaining how it affects me personally and then how it translates to a universal problem. I mean catastrophe.

Also, I think Brett Kavanaugh did an excellent job demonstrating the overt anger issues testosterone can produce (i.e. screaming in Supreme Court) and Trump has truly demonstrated how emotional decisions (i.e. demanding a wall be built) can put a country in distress. Government shutdown day… 234? Actually it’s day 29 but we’ll get there. Both of these situations were expected from a female because of how “dramatic,” we are and yet look at these men putting us to shame. So sad.

I am your stereotypical girly-girl. I relish in dolling myself up, wearing makeup, getting my nails done, wearing heels, elaborate skin-care routines, you name it- I do it. I am not, however, your stereotypical girl when it comes to anything beyond that. I do not entertain gender roles and I will never be entirely dependent on anyone other than myself to provide for me and/or my family. I am not a housewife, I am not educated just to apply my skills to bake sales and volunteering positions. Chaperoning field-trips or managing dinner parties. There is not a single thing wrong with those who choose to center their lifestyle by those activities. But they are not what women should be expected of or assigned to doing. Men should not be subjected to the vice versa of these gender roles, either. However, we live in a society that oriented itself around men telling women what to do. What they can and cannot do, where they can and cannot work. What they can and cannot be paid. Whether they truly can be self-sustainable.

This is not just about the wage-gap, this is not just about sexual harassment, this is not just about rape culture. It is the aggressive dominance of men in every factor of a woman’s life that gives way to this method of control. Even if a woman can provide for herself, manage herself and her family, she is seen incomplete without a man. She is deemed to be unfortunate because she does not fit the traditional idea of what a family looks like. Her work? Discredited. Her efforts? Invalidated. They are seen as just enough, but not an accomplishment because she does not have a male figure matched to her.

Why is this so significant? Because when I tell people that I am studying to become a doctor- of the first things I am asked is, “Are you going to marry one, too?” In what world can the amount of effort it took for me to get into medical school translate to me securing a dating pool of men who have an MD? The one I freaking live in. Even worse, some don’t ask. They comment that I was smart to go to med school as it increases my chances of ending up with a doctor. I’m sorry, what?

A female doctor is not respected in the way a male doctor is. This is evident on a factual level through the wage gap. On average, a female physician in the same field and specialty is paid $100,000.00 LESS than her male colleague. She could be working the exact same number of hours if not more, and will be paid LESS. There are male doctors who have infamously attempted horrid justifications for this. Among the excuses, the most common are that female physicians prioritize their families over their patients and therefore are not as dedicated or concentrated on their work as male physicians. That females are generally more lazy and therefore see less patients. That we are not as competent as male physicians and therefore we do not deserve the same pay. That patients feel more comfortable, more confident in the abilities of male physicians as females are expected to make more mistakes. Enraged yet?

There’s more! If you try not to think about the financial injustice taking place, there are always the sexist individuals who will call you, “Nurse.” This is demeaning to FEMALES and NURSES. There are male nurses. There are female doctors. Both require different types of training. Both are valued. Both are vital to the way the healthcare system works. Nurses are respected, honored and crucial parts of any hospital or clinic. They are not female aides that lacked the intelligence to become a doctor. They are not a second-choice occupation. Stop treating them like one.

There’s still more! Female doctors who look a certain way are perceived to be beneath female doctors that portray a unisex, minimalist appearance. Every doctor, or employee of any field, should maintain a professional and comfortable appearance. Do not wear anything that could get in the way of your work or be considered inappropriate. However, this is not interfere with the personal preference of style some individual’s may have. If a female doctor dresses with trend and style, she is seen as superficial and more concerned with her looks than her job. If a male doctor dresses with trend and style, he is seen as an attractive doctor. That’s it. His clinical skill does not come into question. However, to females, “You’re too pretty to be a doctor,” is not a compliment. It’s an insult. How attractive an individual is or how they like to dress themselves has no correlation to their level of training, knowledge or experience. It’s simply superficial and discriminatory to think otherwise.

I’ve focused on medicine for the majority of the piece because that is where my focus is personally. Unfortunately, that’s not the only place this complex level of sexism occurs. As mentioned before, it takes place in every single occupation- but research has demonstrated that it’s higher than average for women in STEM. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. All fields with predominantly high male occupants. All fields known in society as prestigious, difficult and hard to obtain.

I desperately hope this changes and that the efforts that all women and men have put into creating awareness and reconciling the rules that maintain these injustices do not go in vain.

The Reason I Cannot Fit in a Single Category

Most people don’t realize this unless they are prompted by the question: How do you want your life to be meaningful? For some, the answer remains in the most common template: a job, a family, a house and possibly a sense of community. Their ambition is to provide for themselves and their loved ones, that is what makes life fulfilling to them. To me, a single goal is not enough. I feel like I can do more, like I should be doing more. Part of that is not healthy. I often get ahead of myself and take on too much. If you do that, if you spread yourself thin, you won’t be able to perform the way you are supposed to even on the tasks that your prioritize. Additionally, the most important thing I’ve recognized is not every endeavor I wish to pursue deserves my time.

The question I get asked most frequently on any of my social media platforms is about time management. How did I self-publish a book while studying pre-med in undergrad? How do I post about my makeup, clothes, stylistic choices while studying 4+ hours a day? Where did the idea to start WithinTheRaw merch come from and how did I make it a reality while conducting clinical research? So many of my interests appear to be polar opposites. But I’m not sure I would have realized that if it had not been pointed out to me. I am not the type of person who believes you need to let go of one thing to make room for another. Instead, I thrive on allowing myself to have multiple passions and instead of viewing them as a burden or disservice, instead of worrying that I don’t fit in just one category, I embrace it.

Where does the difference come from? Your down time. The easiest example I can provide is beginning WithinTheRaw as a fashion blog in high school and really focusing in on it during my first year of undergrad. I have loved clothes, fashion and being able to style myself since I was a little girl. So that part, I have had a lot of practice with. My first year of undergrad was the easiest. It left me with a lot of time that I did use to hang out with friends, relax, speak to my family and just take care of myself. But part of what I did to take care of myself is enjoy dressing up. Searching both online and in stores for deals, trendy pieces to put together and once I found them- getting dolled up to shoot them with a photographer was fun. It was not a chore, it was not taxing. I did not come home from it feeling exhausted and as though I committed myself to a second job. It left me on a high. I felt satisfied, content, and peaceful. So even if it was just once a week, I made time for it. I woke up a little earlier, I finished assignments ahead of time so I could spend the afternoon shooting. It’s not that the activity was not time-consuming, it absolutely was. But it was productive and well-managed and therefore I did not mind.

For those of you who feel like they want to take on so much, they don’t even know where to start, ask yourself: why am I pursuing what I am pursuing? You have to ensure that everything you take on, you do so because you genuinely find interest in it. It may challenge you, it may frustrate you, but you have to have a calling towards it. Do not take on a hobby or activity because you see a lot of others doing so. Do not do it because it seems attainable or as though it will benefit you in any way other than personally. It’s not worth it. Studying and pursuing medicine never felt like an obligation for me because no one told me to choose it. I chose it for myself out of my sheer desire to become a practicing physician. (InshaAllah!) I started writing in high school, I took creative writing classes as electives and began to depend on writing short stories and poetry as a form of release. Turning it into a publication is for another blog post, but the point is I did not do it because I wanted to be a published author, although saying that is awesome. I did not do it with anything else in mind other than wanting to share my work with fellow authors, writers, readers and artists.

It’s easy to feel disorganized and distraught when you have more than one serious passion. I’m feeling it right now despite managing the same passions for the past six years. I decided to start blogging properly again, something I haven’t taken on in a while. It’s a bridge I created because now that I’m in medical school- I don’t have time to write as creatively as I want. I’m still adjusting. But I still want to write. The best reflection of my thoughts and what I’m learning in this journey can be reflected through this blog. I will not force myself to write creatively, ever. Once my mind and body have adjusted to this new environment, my creativity will follow.

The reason I am not panicking or yearning for myself to be able to write as previously mentioned or work on Warfare is because as soon as I realized I have multiple interests, I ranked them. In terms of priority. This is the most important thing you can do for yourself. It will remind you what has to wait and what can’t. It will keep you grounded and away from giving too much of yourself to things that won’t matter in the long-run. For me, the top priority has always been practicing medicine. Becoming a doctor, being a doctor is my first and foremost aspiration in life. Everything else comes second. That’s why at 22, just 6 months after I graduated from undergrad, I started my medical career. I look forward to taking every reader on this journey with me!

The Day Before My First Medical School Lecture

This is basically an open letter to myself so bear with me. Orientation week ended on Friday and left me a bit numb. There was an immense amount of information to process regarding the island, Barbados, as well as Ross itself. We went through the entire curriculum, code of conduct, exam regulations as well as advice and lessons from previous students and professors. I had 48 hours to reset before my first lecture which is at 7:00AM tomorrow morning.

My thoughts? I wish the grocery store was still open so I could go buy a tub of ice cream. I’m still in disbelief. Also, I’m pretty scared. I want to do well and I know I am capable of doing it but worry stems from having something to lose. Fear is also motivation.

I want to remember this moment. The night before starting one of the hardest things I’ve ever taken on. I want to hold onto it because I never thought I was going to make it here. The day I do make it. The day I cross the finish line, I’m going to read this and know so much more than I do in this moment. I will have grown exponentially, beyond what I can imagine. I will have dealt with difficulties independently, changing what I am capable of taking on and giving me that much more experience.

In the meantime, I want to remember to be kind to myself. As I train to care for others in the largest capacity possible, I will remember to take care of myself. To treat myself gently, because at the end of the day I am still human. I will push myself, challenge myself and force myself to take risks. Live outside my comfort zone. And I will also seek help. Guidance. Not when I need it the most, but when I need it the least just to ensure I am doing the best I can. I will remain humble as humility is the basis of any good deed, and I will ask questions because no matter how far I get there will always be more to learn.

Sem One - Study Habits (Orientation Week)

MAJOR EDIT to my previous post. Today in our academic discussion portion of orientation we were instructed to forget any old study strategies as they are deemed ineffective for medical school. Re-reading and constantly reviewing notes may help you understand a concept but it will do nothing to actually teach you the information in a way you can apply it to situations. Instead, we were given seven steps:

  1. Plan

  2. Prepare

  3. Participate

  4. Process

  5. Practice

  6. Perform

  7. Pause

The most important step that was emphasized was to PARTICIPATE. Become part of the material as you are learning it for the first time. Stop the professor, ask them questions as the material is being taught so that you do not learn the information incorrectly and therefore have to then correct yourself which takes twice the amount of time. Relate what you are being taught in that moment to something else, create analogies for yourself so that you can be reminded of the concept and topic in more ways than one. This also deepens your understanding and makes it more likely for you to understand the concept in a foreign context.

Additionally, previous students as well as advisers have stressed that students should rewrite the lectures provided in their own words to conjugate the information in a way you personally understand better. Not only that, but condense the information so that you can review it quickly by the time the exam comes. If you feel the need to write down every last detail because you cannot remember it otherwise, you’re doing it wrong.

Sem One - Orientation Week

I’m two days into orientation week and reality has yet to hit me. We’re constantly referred to as student doctors instead of medical students because it more accurately speaks to the intensity of what we are learning. Either that, or we’re referred to as junior doctors. Any time I’m referred to as a partial doctor, I have to stop myself from rejecting the notion. I’m here. I’m in medical school. Why does this still feel so surreal to say?

If you’re anything like me, you were stressed out in undergrad as you attempted a hard science major to fulfill pre-requisites for medical school. My major was a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Neuroscience. There was not a single science course I took that I felt I could do well in without putting in as much effort as humanly possible. Today, during orientation, one of the presenters said undergrad was the easiest schooling in our careers. I still cannot wrap my head around that statement. Also, I’m scared of that presenter. At the end of the day, I know she did not mean that as in the content is in another language and extremely difficult to comprehend. Instead, she meant the volume of material we are expected to know like the back of our hand is A LOT. A lot more than undergrad but that’s understandable.

From the advice I’ve been given and my personal understanding of being a medical student what I know is this: if it were easy, everyone would do it. There is no reason becoming a doctor should be a manageable or simple task. You are expected to be responsible for the lives of other human beings. You are expected to be the liaison between their health and quality of life. This is not a career meant for everyone. Despite having the characteristics, ethics and drive to become a doctor you may not accomplish your goal. Being a doctor is taxing on one’s physical and mental health. Medical school is just the first step to that journey.

My biggest aspiration is to become a prominent and strong doctor. I’m confident in that decision and have stood by it for a very long time. Now that I’m in the process of doing so, I’ve had moments where I need to pinch myself as a reminder that this is real life. I’m fully aware that my hesitation and self-doubt in declaring I am a doctor in training comes from the fears I had during undergrad. I questioned myself every single day, whether I got good grades or bad grades- if I would ever get into medical school. I portrayed confidence and did relatively well in class but I still felt that becoming an actual practicing physician was out of reach. The pedestal that doctors are placed upon often makes people forget that they are just human. They are some of the hardest workers society has and they dedicate so much of their life to training for the one morning they walk into a room and say, “I’m going to be your doctor today,” to a patient. They are not born knowing everything about the human body. No one is born destined to be a doctor if they did not work for it.

My reminder to myself during this orientation week is that I earned this. It was in no means perfect, and I struggled immensely but I came out on top. I revisited my mistakes, retook classes and most importantly- LEARNED. I feel so prepared for my classes to start because I know exactly how to study so that I retain and understand the most amount of information. I don’t think I would have known how to study so productively if I had not tried the several ways I did in undergrad and saw what failed me versus what worked for me. When things feel extremely overwhelming whether you are a medical student or pre-med in undergrad, apply what my Dad taught me. There are three steps to learning any new information, no matter the amount of it.

1. Read
2. Memorize
3. Apply

Read the relevant information, memorize the concepts you read and then combine the two skills to be able to apply it to any and every scenario you are given. Do not go through these steps only once. Go through them several times, as many times as you need to before you can teach the information on your own. But follow them in this order.

Prologue

There was a moment in high school where I questioned if being fascinated with medicine was enough to actually pursue it. I decided it was not, and confidently announced to my parents at 16 years old that I would not become a doctor under any circumstance. My parents were rare angels among most South Asian parents because they merely nodded and said, “Okay.” It was the same answer I had gotten when I initially told them I wanted to pursue medicine a few years prior. “Okay,” was a common response in my family. For example, flash forward four years later to me telling my Mom I got into med school. Her response? “Okay.”

My decision did not change because I wanted a job people would always be in need of. Nor did it change because I felt an intense calling to help others. I was not pressured by circumstance or society. I was privileged and could have chosen to pursue just about anything I wanted. My senior year, I made the choice to go to Pace University in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The University offered just about every major you could think of. They had a well-known performing arts program. They were renowned for their school of business. Yet, I submitted my intended major as a Bachelor of Science in Biology.

Two things had changed. The first was exposure. After deciding not to pursue medicine, I volunteered at Bridgeport Hospital in Bridgeport, CT. I needed to ensure that I was making the right decision. My career choice could not be based on fantasies while watching Grey’s Anatomy or any other TV show. It could not be based upon the sole experiences of others, no matter how wise they might be. I needed to witness for myself what working alongside other doctors and nurses is like. For a year, I committed myself to the Post-Op (Operational) wing where patients remained once they came out of a surgical procedure to the time when they were discharged. I tended to their emotional and physical problems under supervision. I also brought food provided by the hospital to the patients and sometimes made them toast, tea or coffee depending on dietary restrictions.

My first day there, I was asked to make toast for a patient. I put the bread in the toaster and had begun to wait when a nurse came over and asked me to bring paperwork to a doctor. I told her I would go, as long as she kept an eye on the toast. My supervisor had specifically instructed me not to turn the dial on the toaster past the number 4/6. I thought my supervisor had instructed EVERYONE on the floor that as I was NOT the only person with access to the toaster. I was wrong. As soon as I stepped foot back into the wing, the fire alarm went off. There was smoke everywhere. Patients were coughing, confused and distraught. The nurse had turned the dial on the toaster to 6/6 thinking the toast would be done faster and she would not have to wait as long. Instead, the toast caught on fire and the fire department showed up. While I helped the others clean up, the nurse went around telling everyone I was the one responsible for making toast. On the way out the door, a firefighter and surgeon suggested I pay attention to what I’m responsible for. I went home and cried.

I realized, while crying, what scared me was getting in trouble and losing the job. I cared enough to want to go back and continue interacting with patients and checking in on the ones I had already met. I had become friends with a female surgeon and asked her questions frequently. My curiosity led me to YouTube, where I watched endless procedures. People inserting chest tubes, delivering babies, and performing organ transplants, to name a few.

My obsession grew and led to the second factor: stepping into the labs at Pace University. During my accepted students tour, we visited a section designated for students studying science. The home for Biology, Physics and Chemistry majors. Meeting the professors, viewing the labs and hearing from other science students speak on their research and coursework ignited my fascination further. I was handed a list of all the courses Biology majors could take, some were required and part of the major but others were electives. I remember thinking I could not choose between electives when I read they offered reproductive biology, virology, microbiology and an intro to neuroscience course. I wanted to take all of them.

In the time between that visit and my first day of classes, I was sure I wanted to pursue the sciences. My insatiable curiosity geared me towards becoming a physician over conducting research. I found myself wanting to know more and more about the human body and its intricate workings. The causes behind diseases and the interactions between pathogens and pharmaceutical drugs. How to deliver someone’s baby. My path to med school has been anything but easy. There were difficulties I encountered that I was not sure I would overcome. I questioned myself and my abilities to stay on this track multiple times. But I did and now I’m able to write this entry awaiting my first day of orientation for medical school.

*My next post will explain some of these obstacles and how I handled them to get to where I am now. Thank you for reading!