A little while back, I remember reading a Buzzfeed article that was making the rounds online about doctors not taking women patients seriously. If I had read this article five years ago, I would have been more inclined to believe that these cases were exceptions to the rule, that if anything, in healthcare, things were equal. However, having been confronted with this truth both personally and through other women in my life, unfortunately, I feel confident enough to say this: Doctors, no matter the gender, often do not believe a woman and her health concerns, even when they’re serious.
We’re called dramatic, hypochondriacs, and accused of looking up things online and freaking ourselves out. At the very worst, women are denied treatment because the medical professionals that we trust with our lives do not trust us and our concerns enough to diagnose us. (And so we turn to self-research, even though we know that our pursuit for answers may be used against us later, in the examining room at the doctor’s.)
Every woman has a story about being ignored or having their concerns put off.
For me, my experience is with my endometriosis. Sure, my doctor personally acknowledges that I have it, but you’d never know it if you looked at my medical file. I still remember my frustration when I told her about my pain and how my mother also has the condition and all that she said was, “Well, you’re already on birth control, so any pain you have should be managed with that and ibuprofen.” I remember feeling unheard even though I had raised my voice in panic, all but shouting at her.
One of my friends, Ashley, told me how her (male) doctors at the military base she grew up on told her that she was just exhausted when she came to them reporting of migraines every day during high school lunch. She knew that couldn’t be it—she was sleeping half the day away, and so, when she came to them again, they suggested that she may have a cyst. It took several visits before she was diagnosed with anxiety, her migraines being brought on by the stress she felt having to be around so many loud people and noises during lunch.
For my friend, Molly, she was called a hypochondriac over and over again even as she was experiencing strep-like sore throats every six weeks, butterfly rashes and constant pain. It wasn’t until she caught mono and everything took a turn for a worse did her primary care physician start ordering more tests out of concern that her “supposed” ailments weren’t getting better as time went on. Several tests later, and they finally diagnosed her with fibromyalgia, which even now she calls a “lazy diagnosis,” as they ran out of tests and won’t check for lupus.
The fact that I could look into my immediate friend group and instantly find cases of doctors ignoring women and their pain does more than scare me—it angers me. It’s frustrating to know that I am playing Russian Roulette with my health every time I schedule a doctor’s appointment because maybe this time they’ll take me seriously, or maybe this time I’ll have a health issue that could kill me and they’ll brush it off as always.I shouldn’t need to feel like I should take my boyfriend or father with me every time I go to an appointment or the urgent care.
There is only one immediate fix for this problem, and that is speaking up. It is insisting that your doctor listens. It is doing your research and being willing to leave a doctor behind in favor for someone who will actually do everything in their power to make sure you’re okay.
Every time a doctor doesn’t listen to a woman patient, a woman’s life is in danger. It is time for women and their voices, their concerns, to be taken seriously. We shouldn’t have to fight for our lives when going to the people that could save them.