Concern over 'caregiver' stereotype sells medical profession short

January 17, 2006

I was stunned by the item in your RSNA 2005 Webcast, "Caregiver stereotype plagues female med students," (http://www.diagnosticimaging.com/ webcast05/, Nov. 30). The lead paragraph, "While women choose radiology for intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction, they consistently have to overcome the stereotype of the nurturing caregiver, according to survey results," brought to mind the biblical prophecy that "The hearts of men will grow cold."

I was stunned by the item in your RSNA 2005 Webcast, "Caregiver stereotype plagues female med students," (http://www.diagnosticimaging.com/ webcast05/, Nov. 30). The lead paragraph, "While women choose radiology for intellectual stimulation and job satisfaction, they consistently have to overcome the stereotype of the nurturing caregiver, according to survey results," brought to mind the biblical prophecy that "The hearts of men will grow cold."

I could only wonder: What are they thinking?

The only potentially spiritual element of our work-that is, the part that gifts us with the potential to transcend this flawed, greedy-grabby, me-first nature-is the caring part. It's an opportunity to serve that is almost unique to medicine. Even from a pragmatic standpoint, caring is integral to the practice of medicine. When a patient is anxious, apprehensive, or in pain, unless they sense that you care, that you are determined to put their safety, comfort, and well-being ahead of your own, even common procedures like a barium enema or a myelogram can become a sad debacle of unintended torture, if you can complete them at all.

I was fortunate to work with a gifted female pediatric radiologist whose dear and caring nature was exactly the balm that was needed to shepherd countless fearful toddlers and their worried parents through voiding cystograms, GIs, and other stressful procedures. Yet some want to foster the notion that a caring nature is a plague and something to be squeezed out of us?

Here's what I would say to female medical students (and sympathetic academic faculty) "plagued" by the unfortunate and debilitating nurturing caregiver stereotype: Medicine is heart. If the necessity to muster up a little compassion is a cloud over your vision of job satisfaction and puts unreasonable demands on your soul, perhaps you should switch to a field where self-interested heartlessness is a valued asset. Have you considered business? Or, as if I have to mention it, law?

-Paul Morris, M.D.,

Oakland, CA

E-MAIL US: jhayes@cmp.com