As a little girl growing up I always wanted to be a nurse or a marine biologist, basically wanting to do an occupation that as a female was expected of me by society. As I got older I began to move away from these stereotypical occupations and finally when I entered college I realized I wanted to be a Medical Examiner with specific training in clinical forensic pathology.
"A medical examiner is a licensed physician with particular expertise in investigating violent, sudden and unexpected, suspicious or unattended deaths... A forensic pathologist is a branch of medicine that deals with diagnosis of disease and cause of death by means of laboratory examination of body fluids(clinical pathology), cell samples (cytology), and tissues (pathological anatomy)" (1).
Many people when I say medical examiner they think of a coroner. A coroner on the other hand is someone who is basically in the same profession, but they are not medical physicians and are not alloted the same amount of responsibility and don't make as much money. A medical examiner basically performs autopsies and takes samples of bodily fluid, cells and tissues to determine the cause of the person's death. They are also expert witnesses and can be called upon in court to provide a reasonable explanation to how the death of the person happened, especially in murder cases. Most people stereotype medical examiners as being very morbid people who are overly fascinated with death and in reality they are normal people who have such a love for life that they want to study death and the causes of death so that they can help prolong the lives of others.
To become a medical examiner with specific training in clinical forensic pathology the person has to first graduate with a four year Bachelor's degree in almost any major of their choice. Once they have attained this degree they must then attend a four year medical school and earn either a M.D. or a D.O. degree. After medical school they must then spend four years training in anatomic pathology and an additional year training in forensic pathology. These five years training are like a residency where they work under a medical examiner and get paid a reasonable wage. Once they complete these five years of training they are then eligible to take the test to become certified by the American Board of Pathology (1). So basically they spend thirteen years in school/training, nine of which they are actually focusing on medicine and pathology. I know that seems like a long time in school, but in the end it is worth all the hard work, because not only are they using a detective style of science/medicine and determining someones final story of their life, but they are helping prolong the lives of everyone in society.
The salary of a medical examiner ranges from about $87,812- 216,265 as a practitioner to way more than that if they hold a managerial position in the field. (2) I wasn't able to find specific salary ranges for men and women in this particular occupational field, but I was able to find statistics regarding the salary differences in the medical profession as a whole. On the Feminist Majority Foundation page dealing with Women in Medicine they stated that "by 1988, female doctors earned 62.8 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned" (3). This means that women on average are making about 37.2 cents less than a man who has the same amount of education and the same about of occupational experience. 37 cents may not seem like a huge difference, but when you do the math this equals out to be thousands of dollars difference between men and women. To conceptualize this difference you can go to the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation that has a State-by-State data listing of the differences between men and women's educational attainment and earnings. (4) This data list isn't specific for the medical field, but rather for all occupations on average. These salary differences are attributed to a variety of factors. First and foremost, as we have seen in our Women's Studies text, these differences are attributed to social constructions of our society. Men, in general, are valued more in our society and because of this our society believes that they should represent that through men and women's salaries. (5) Secondly, men in our society believe that they hold more power and prestige over women and if they were being paid the same wages as women then they wouldn't feel like they had more prestige than a woman in the same occupation. (5) Basically it is all about a power trip for men. Thirdly, I think that some of these salary differences can be attributed to the fact that the medical profession is a predominately male profession, with 84% of physicians being male. (3)
These differences in the number of women in the medical field can first be seen in the enrollment of female students in medical school. The American Medical Women's Association stated on their website that "women comprised just over 45% of applicants and new students at U.S. medical schools in 1999-2000. The proportion of women medical residents increased from 28% of all residents in 1989 to 38% in 1999, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges" (6). These statistics also show that the medical profession is also becoming more and more female oriented. Women are slowly becoming more interested in the medical profession and deciding to attend medical school. The difference can also be seen in the proportion of female professors in medical schools compared to male professors; Assistant Professors- 15% women and 25% men, Associate Professors- 6% women and 15% men, and Full Professors- 4% women and 20% men. (7) I also use these statistics to show that their is an under-representation of women in the medical field and it is hard to fight for equality with there isn't a large population fighting for the same cause. It is also hard to encourage other women to enter the medical field when there is such a small percentage of women who have actually gone through all the hard work and have made it to the level of a professor.
In the medical field not only is their a huge disproportion in salary between men and women, but there is also a huge disproportion of men and women in different subfields. First of all I already stated that 84% of physicians are male, but 97% of nurses are women. (3) This statistic shows the biases that surround the medical field. It shows how our society believes that men should be the doctors and women the nurses. Of the 16% of women who are practicing physicians, many of these "women cluster in the four lowest- paid specialties: general family practice, pediatrics, psychiatry, and internal medicine. Together, these specialties account for 70% of women physicians. Surgery and its various specialties, which not only command the highest incomes but also the highest public confidence, are comprised of only 8% women" (3). One of the reasons that women make less money in the medical field is because the fact that they work in the lower paid subfields. For example, Family practitioners make about $156,010 a year, pediatrics make about $161,331 a year, psychiatrists make about $180,000 a year, and internal medicine makes about $166,420 a year. On the other hand surgeons make about $282,504 a year. (8) So when more women become surgeons and other higher paying physicians the average salaries may begin to even out between men and women in the medical field.
These differences in women and men being in different subfields could relate to the fact that many women are considered nurturers and good listeners and that is why they choose to do pediatrics and psychiatry while some men are more oriented toward fixing and repairing things like what surgeons do in the body. A lot of the time women are viewed as enable to perform the same jobs as men. For example, many men believe that women wouldn't be able to perform surgeries, because of they would get sick at the sight of blood. This bias is going to be the same bias that I myself will probably have to face as I head farther in to my occupational field. I myself have always been considered a tom boy and have never been scared to participate in the same activities as the guys. I'm one of those people that can sit all day and watch the surgery channel and eat lunch and not be bothered one bit. I just think that it is a very unfair bias to believe that females, because they are supposed to be delicate and sweet can't handle to see and deal with the same situations as males. There are all kinds of biases and barriers surrounding women entering in to the medical profession. Everyone needs some sort social support to make it easier to attain their goals and when men all around them, ranging from their father to their teacher or their intimate partner, it makes it hard for them to have faith and confidence in themselves.
I obtained information from a number of valuable organizations that were working to make it easier for women to better themselves and to become more represented in the medical field. A few of the major organizations were the Feminist Majority Foundation and the American Medical Women's Association. The Feminist Majority Foundation are working to get women on the board of association like American Medical Association. They basically want women to be able to move up in rank and not be held down by the glass ceiling that our society has constructed. The American Medical Women's Association is working to help women get in to the medical field by providing scholarships and grants to women who want to pursue a medical career. They also provide and develop leadership, education, mentoring and strategic alliances. With providing leadership, education and mentoring it is helping break down the barriers that are holding women back from entering the higher paying subfields and also making it possible for women to attain the same salaries as their male counterparts.
I plan on helping make a change to these barriers and biases by showing men that women are just as smart and are just as motivated as men when it comes to attaining the goals that they set their eyes on. I'm sure along the way that there will be a man who will try to put me down and tell me that I can't do it, in fact I have already come across a few here at Virginia Tech, but I'm not going to let them stop me. I also want to be a role model for other young ladies who may want to be a medical examiner. I think that it is important to get out in the community and make your presence known and make a difference in people's lives all around you. By participating in organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, I can mentor a young lady their and make sure that she knows that anything she sets her dreams on can become a reality as long as she stays focused. I also want to become a leading member in the medical field. You can't expect changes to happen if you just sit back and wait till someone else makes a stand. Talk is cheap and until you take action for yourself very little things will get accomplished.
(1) Career Guide to Medical Examiner
(2) Department of Human Resource Management
(3) Feminist Majority Foundation
(4) American Association of University Women Educational Foundation
(5) Women's Studies Text
Shaw, Susan M., Lee, Janet. (2007). Women's Voices Feminist Visions. New York, NY: McGraw Hill
(6) American Medical Women's Association
(7) Association of American Medical Colleges
(8) U.S. Department of Laboratory