Cedars-Sinai Blog

What's It Like to Be a Woman in Medicine?

Dr. Maya Benitez with a patient.

It's no secret that medicine has historically been a boys' club.

It wasn't until 1849 that the first woman in the US received a medical license. Her name was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and she forged new paths in medicine for women around the world.

"Do not underestimate the impact your voice, your perspective, your knowledge, and your vulnerability will have on this ever-expanding field."

Each year, Dr. Blackwell's birthday, February 3, is recognized as National Women Physicians Day.

In honor of National Women Physicians Day, we sat down with 4 female doctors to ask how sexism has affected them, how things have changed for women in medicine in the 170 years since Dr. Blackwell earned her license, and where there's still room for improvement.

What types of struggles did you face in your pursuit of medicine because of your gender?

Dr. Janet Wei, cardiologist: When I was an intern, I was told that because I was a woman, I should not pursue cardiology, which is still a male-dominated field.

Fortunately, I had outstanding mentors who encouraged me to pursue my passion.

Dr. Nimmi Kapoor, surgical oncologist: I think my struggle as a woman in the pursuit of medicine, especially as a surgeon, was as much mental as physical.

Wondering how I would be able to be a good mother and good surgeon was a constant battle in my head, more than in reality.

Fortunately, I think I can do both just fine!


Read: Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Urologist Jennifer Anger


Dr. Maya Benitez, family practice physician: There were constant misconceptions of me.

Patients would say things like, "Nurse, can you get the doctor?"

Dispelling these initial impressions of me and correcting people's assumptions of me being anything but the physician was something I had to and still have to deal with today.

This spans many levels, not only because I am a woman, but also because I am an African American woman.

Women bring a different side to medicine and I firmly believe that diversity—women, men, transgender, gay, lesbian—in the community of medicine is optimal for our patients.

What's your advice to girls and women thinking about pursuing medicine?

Dr. Bahareh Schweiger, director of Pediatric Endocrinology: I would encourage them to pursue medicine if they have an interest in it.

I would encourage young girls to learn more about the sciences at an early age. They should be encouraged to partake in science curriculums though the school and extracurricular classes such as robotics, computer club, etc.

Dr. Wei: Find mentors who can share with you their experiences, guide you to participate in research projects, and let you shadow him/her in clinic.

Dr. Benitez: Do it!

If you want it—I mean really want it—then there is a need for you to pursue it. There is a need for more women to be represented in our field.

Do not underestimate the impact your voice, your perspective, your knowledge, and your vulnerability will have on this ever-expanding field.


Read: Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Linda Burnes Bolton


How have things changed or improved for women in medicine during your career?

Dr. Schweiger: It has been nice to see more women in academic and research tracks and taking on more leadership positions within the hospital.

Dr. Kapoor: There are more women rising to leadership positions in medicine which helps all women physicians with equality. There are still struggles with equal pay that need to be addressed.

Dr. Tiffany Perry, assistant professor of Neurosurgery: There are more females entering the field of neurosurgery, but there still are not many women in the field of spine neurosurgery.

Regulations mandating hospitals and programs to allow maternity leave for female residents and physicians has improved the overall quality of the environment.

Women bring a different side to medicine and I firmly believe that diversity—women, men, transgender, gay, lesbian—in the community of medicine is optimal for our patients.