Black hellebore, a flower of the deepest black and with petals the sinister shape of blunted arrowheads, grows wild in the cool, mountainous regions of the Balkans. Despite its unintimidating label as the “Christmas rose,” the hellebore has a much darker history, one bespoken more by the flower’s ebony hue than by its innocuous nickname.
In 2015, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research published an alarming statistic: on average, women made only 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. Even more alarming was the fact that when the study controlled for qualification or stratified by job title, the gender wage gap persisted. Unfortunately, medicine is not immune to the gender wage gap phenomenon. According to data from the US Census Bureau, women make up one-third of US physicians, but on average make only 69 cents for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. This results in over $56,000 in potential wages lost for women in medicine each year.
In light of this recent occasion, I would like to draw attention to the sexual harassment of a particularly vulnerable population that is a result of a unique power dynamic: they have no income, they have amassed significant debt and they depend on the subjective opinion of their abusers for validation of their work. Most frustrating, is that many of the corrective actions taken over the last 25 years have had a limited effect on changing this specific culture of abuse. This specific population is medical students.
These words, spoken by Dr. Gabrielle McMullin, a vascular surgeon in Australia, refer to a recent case wherein a female surgical resident won a case against a surgeon accused of sexually assaulting her in the Melbourne hospital where they both worked. Ironically, winning this workplace harassment lawsuit has made it impossible for the surgical resident, Caroline Tan, to find a job. In the surgical profession, speaking up against assault has resulted in Tan being labeled not as a victim or a brave woman who spoke up, but as a troublemaker.
Administrative assistant, nurse and high school volunteer were just a few of the titles people assumed I was when they saw me sitting in the office of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Often to their surprise, I was a medical student starting my summer research project between my first and second year. It became immediately clear that seeing a young woman associated with orthopedic surgery was not something many people were used to.