I Am More Than a Doctor

Image: Chanwit Whanset/Shutterstock

I’m female.

It is and probably always will be a male-dominated world, especially in medicine. On a daily basis at work, I get called nurse, tech, Miss, Mrs. — anything but doctor. Yes, this horrific stereotyping is true, and annoying. Not only do I have to wear the shield of my profession, but I also must prove that I am what my title states that I am.

As a female physician, not only am I often deprived of a title I’ve earned and worked hard for, but by being female, I have to continue to prove my worth. I’ve served in leadership roles on medical staffs of hospitals and many departments. Unfortunately, even with these advances, some still don’t see women in this new progressive light.

This is due to the fact that in medicine:

  • 70% of physicians are male.
  • Female physicians make half of a male physician’s salary (but change is coming).
  • The proportion of women entering medicine has more than doubled since 1980.
  • More women practice pediatrics and gynecology than men — this is especially true for new doctors.
  • There are still a handful of specialties without many female doctors, including orthopedic surgery or urology.
  • Studies have proven that patients seen by a female physicians fare better overall and have better health and better outcomes.

I am Hispanic, a Mexican-American.

I am proud of my heritage. I am a first generation college student and the first physician in my family. Does ethnicity make a difference? Most definitely. People want to be treated and cared for by those that can acknowledge their own beliefs and understand their own language. I’ve had the privilege of practicing in many areas. Each area has its unique climate and culture, and each is in dire need of great scientists and medical professionals. Medical professionals who can reach out to these communities and inspire them towards better health.

Here are the facts:

  • Hispanic physicians make up close to 5% of all practicing physicians.
  • Only 5.5% of medical school graduates are Hispanic.

I am family.

I am a mother, a parent, a spouse, a sister, and a daughter.

Family is important; especially for times when this journey in life is difficult. Without the support of your kids, parents, or spouse, it can be overwhelming to accomplish the insurmountable task of completing medical school and practicing medicine. You need your family, now and in the future. I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the countless sacrifices my parents, kids, and spouse have made and continue to make that allow me to do a job that I love — to practice in a profession that I’m passionate about.

A few years ago, after my kids were both away in college and medical school, I was feeling a bit of empty nest syndrome. I thought it would be a brilliant idea to take in a foreign exchange student. Easy right? So when we were approved for a student from Brazil, I was ecstatic! Six months later, needless to say, it didn’t quite work out.

He questioned why I would want a student around when I was never around. He challenged why we could be so unattached to his activities and events at school. When he left at midpoint in the semester, I was heartbroken for a bit, but not so much because he didn’t fit into our — rather MY — world, but because he had put into perspective what perhaps my own children had lived through. WOW, is this what I gave up? Is this the torture that my own kids endured? In addition, is this the best marriage that I can have, the best relationship with my parents? Did I give up all that for my title, job, career?

I don’t have a 9 to 5 job. Nobody in medicine does. I have twelve hour days where I am locked away in a dungeon of an emergency room without a chance of ever leaving until my relief arrives. There is no calling in sick; there is no ability to leave early for my son’s game or my daughter’s birthday party. Whatever rolls through that door must be taken care of until an outcome is obtained even if it rolls in 10 minutes prior to end of my shift on the night of my anniversary dinner. Who suffers the most due to this crazy, hectic, and chaotic life of a physician? Most often it is those that we care about the most. Our families.

I am a veteran.

I’m a veteran, a US Air Force Major, and a dependent of a US Navy sailor. Serving my country was one of the most fulfilling and painful endeavors I have ever experienced. I was stationed and worked alongside individuals from all across this great nation. I moved from Del Rio, Texas, to the United Kingdom, where I lived and practiced for three years wearing the uniform. It was amazing. The respect and fortitude of those who serve should never be undervalued.

My children have a whole new perspective of the freedoms those who serve grant us by being raised in a military family. The shared heartaches of deployments and time away from family are experiences only a military brat can understand: Reveille in the mornings, TAPS at night, and standing still during both of these events, even if you’re on the playground, is something they will never forget. Bowling alley parties on base, and a movie theatre where the national anthem is played before each movie and everyone stands at attention, along with the unfathomable agony of learning that a loved one will not return from their deployment — these are all memories that a child of a military dependent could encounter.

Here are some additional statistics:

  • Only 17% of officers in the armed forces are female.
  • When I left the US Air Force, I was 1 of 2400 female officers nationwide. Of that, only 2% of those officers were Hispanic, thus I was 1 of only 48.

So who am I?

I am many people — I represent all women, all Mexican-Americans, all mothers, and all veterans when I put on my white coat. I am more than a doctor. I am someone who fought to be where she is. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something — if you believe them, you won’t. You define your outcome — choose happiness. Prejudice will always be there — how you handle it defines you. What you do now matters — life happens. It has a roundabout way of getting you to your destination; life is not always a straight line. Remember where you came from — the best memories and moments come from there and make you who you are.

Dr. María Pérez-Johnson is a mom, wife, daughter, doctor, pediatric emergency medicine physician, author and travel enthusiast. She’s excited to share her story and be a part of the movement of spotlighting women in medicine.

This post has been edited for length and clarity from its original appearance in The Chronicles of Women In White Coats.

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