After nearly a decade of medical training, patients routinely ask how old I am.
(It is okay if I go out with my nephews, and people think I’m their elder sister and not their aunt. I would not mind that!) Except that I’m a qualified Psychiatrist who will soon be one of the very few Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists in Pakistan.
However, this is not enough. In the culture/society that I am living in, looking like someone who has just stepped out of graduate school can have very real consequences, especially for the patient-doctor therapeutic alliance.
In Pakistan, the failure of women to practice medicine following graduation from medical colleges is being highlighted as a problem. Criticism is directed against women who fail to practice medicine since this is perceived as wasted national educational resources. Women outnumber male students in medical colleges across Pakistan, forming up to 85 percent of the student body in private universities and 65 percent in the public sector. And if she is lucky enough to be a (non- OBGYN) consultant, she does not look old enough to be taken seriously.
With the multi-hyphenated identity of being a female born in a traditional Sindhi family, raised in a small city, I chose to continue higher studies, opted Psychiatry as a sub-specialty & moved out of my parents’ house. Belonging to a culture where girls are usually protected and supported by families with whom they are connected either by blood or by marriage, I was blessed to have a family that helped and supported me to continue my education and pursue my career.
Today I’m 1 of the 2 Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (CAP) fellows from Pakistan, a country where CAP makes for 0.01% of the general adult psychiatry. There are around 500 adult psychiatrists in the country. Hardly any female psychiatrist has been elected for leadership positions in professional bodies. There are few influential female psychiatrists who continue to work in their own capacities, and most of them are within the private sector. However, it is not genuinely translated into anything close to what gender-friendly culture looks like.
Having crossed all these obstacles at such a young age from a rural city of Pakistan, when I stand in front of male patients who try to undermine my authority, I can not help myself but think of the “Fearless Girl who faced down Wall Street’s bull. “ And this helps my neuronal synapses to rejuvenate.
I have learned an essential concept of graceful self-promotion from my role-model — a female mentor. Many of us are hampered in advancing our careers because of our difficulty with self-promotion. Women have unconsciously internalized that self-promotion is shameless and in poor taste, is egocentric, and that indeed it is not “professional” to toot your own horn.
However, this is not true. This is the conditioned self we carry that is shaped by the environment ( at all levels). This is about time that we replace this conditioned-self with our authentic self. Let’s be the voice for each other and make some noise. Our voices need to be heard.
My dear female colleagues from academia, take your due credit gracefully and say, “Yes I am the Consultant Psychiatrist.”
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist in making.. View all posts by ASC