I’ve got a story to tell you about my Sunday.
As a doctor working in a National Health Service whose doors (no matter what the Health Secretary might have you believe) are open twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, I work my fair share of Sundays.
This Sunday, I went to a 9am meeting and took a handover from the female medical SHO who had been on overnight. The female medical consultant, who had been there since 8am, continued reviewing the overnight admissions, I headed off to the medical wards to start seeing overnight admissions. A member of the nursing staff on the first ward that I arrived on had a message for me, to say that the female gynaecology SHO would be up that morning with her female registrar to review a patient I’d spoken briefly with them about the previous night. I spent a little time on that ward, reviewing blood results, refining treatments, and arranging to get two patients discharged home. As I left, the female haematology consultant arrived to review her patients. The rest of my morning was reasonably uneventful, reviewing patients on the wards that I’m responsible for. A female FY1 was doing some bloods when I went into my usual ward shortly before lunchtime. I raided our coffee stash, reviewed several patients, and tried to review another one but was told by the nursing staff that there was no need as a female respiratory consultant had already seen her. I stopped in briefly to the receiving unit to see how my colleagues were getting on, and was then bleeped to go see a patient in resus who it was thought might need to be admitted to the coronary care unit. I was met there by the female consultant in emergency medicine who had seen the patient initially and thanked me for coming. It quickly became clear that there was more going on than we had first thought. I spent quite a bit of time getting them stable and making a plan, and calling the female medical consultant, who was in the receiving unit having by that time started her second ward round of the day, for a bit of advice. She came down to the department to see if there was anything else that needed to be done — after all, she was also going to be the one who would be phoned at any time overnight if anything had been missed. The patient was transferred and I left the department after saying hello to a few of the female emergency medicine registrars and SHOs who were congregating for their afternoon handover meeting. In the corridor, I met the female orthopaedic SHO who let me know that a patient I’d reviewed on her ward on Saturday was doing much better. I went back to the wards and continued on with my planned reviews. In the coronary care unit, the nursing staff made me a cup of tea and fed me a sandwich when they realised that I hadn’t yet eaten lunch. I was bleeped by one of the surgical wards asking for some medical advice, and I went across there to see the patient they were asking about. As I wrote in the notes, I chatted briefly to the female neurosurgical trainee who I’d first met the previous evening with her female anaesthetic colleague when we had attended a periarrest call. And then, finally, five minutes late as usual, I ran down to the evening handover meeting where I handed over to the female medical SHO and the female FY1.
I did work with men this weekend, of course. I just haven’t mentioned them here. I am careful about what I say on the Internet, for many good reasons. This story has been judiciously and deliberately edited to not mention identifiable information about patients, or the exact nature of the curse that I uttered in a public corridor when I realised that I’d spent so long in ED that the sandwich place had closed, or the existence of my male colleagues.
This is because I got home from work to discover that while I had been working my thirteen hour Sunday, the Times had published a column by Dominic Lawson claiming that female doctors are pushing the NHS to the precipice of disaster by refusing to work antisocial hours. It’s better in the airline industry, for example, because there aren’t a lot of female airline pilots and that’s a good thing, he said, as Amelia Earhart rolled over in her grave and the 1950s called, outraged, to ask for its glass ceiling back.
I don’t know what the rotas of those women I was working with on Sunday look like. I don’t know if they work full time or part time. I don’t necessarily know that about the men I was working with, either, because it’s not only women who have responsibilities outside of their primary paid employment or find it important to have a work/life balance. I know that a lot of them will work full time, as I do myself. I don’t know if the ones who don’t are working an eighty percent job or a fifty percent jobshare or not on Wednesdays or forty hours a week — which is part time, in this job. I don’t know if they’re part time because of family responsibility or for medical reasons or because they split their time between clinical duties and teaching or research commitments. It is truly none of my business, and none of Dominic Lawson’s, either. The only thing I know for sure is that on Sunday they were all at work with me.
I feel sad for Dominic that his life so clearly doesn’t include any women who happen to be doctors.
I know doctors who are brilliant, smart, competent, compassionate, passionate, driven, committed women who work ferociously hard and who inspire me to be a better doctor. I know doctors who are all of those things and who are my family. I know doctors who are all of those things and are also raising children, and they are legends.
You will forgive me if this response is a little less than timely, Dominic. I worked 88 hours last week and then I went into work on Monday morning to keep going for five more days, and lives have needed saving and antisocial hours have needed worked and the laundry has at some point needed done so you will understand that you are not at the very top of my priority list. The kingdom of God will surely have arrived on Earth when I do not live in a society in which it continues to be relevant for me to incessantly link people to a post that I was compelled to write three years ago about why I am not a woman doctor. I’ve seen a lot of patients in the last week and a half, Dominic. My vagina — a bleeding one, at that — has at no point been an impediment to my making clinical decisions, or doing difficult procedures, or running up six flights of stairs, or breaking bad news (or good news), or crushing peoples’ ribs as I’ve tried to restart their hearts. I have intermittently been mistaken for a nurse, which happens, too often, yes, but people don’t look upon me as if they’ve just met a unicorn when I correct them and I still live in hope that the day will come that I don’t have to.
In the course of my working day, I turn up at a lot of beds and I say the words, “Hello, my name is Beth and I’m one of the doctors.” The reply has not once, not ever, been, “Oh, it’s lovely to meet you, dear, but I’d really rather see a doctor with a penis.”