Volume 5 Number 2, 2005
This Side of Doctoring: Reflections of Women in Medicine
Eliza Lo Chin
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, 396 pp. + xxv, $17.95.
Eliza Lo Chinís book presents an intimate collection of essays which focus not only on the hardships women face in medicine but more importantly on how women can contribute positively to delivering humane health care. The lives of female physicians are riddled with long hours, multiple obligations, and sometimes even family breakup if they fail to carefully balance their professional and private lives. Thus, women physicians face many daunting challenges because of their multiple roles. With all the demands connected to each role, how do women physicians cope? Many of them write about their lives and share some of theirmistakes and hardships with the hope that other women will benefit from their experiences. Women physicians want to know that they are not alone in facing their hardships. One of the main purposes of Lo Chinís book is to give women this sense of kinship.
Another purpose of the book is to show women that it is possible to be a good physician and a good mother, wife, daughter and community leader. On the one hand, many female physicians believe that they are better physicians because they are mothers. Mothers quickly learn the intense care and unconditional love that is involved in mothering which they can use when treating patients. A womanís experiences as a physician, on the other hand, can help her to become a better mother because she is intensely involved in caring for patients. Thus, the roles of mothering and medical professionalism are complementary but not disjunct. There are many anecdotes of women in the book who say that they feel more capable of handling the psychological conflicts and tragedies with patients because they are mothers. Many older patients become like children and need to be loved and cared for in a similar way. Many women physicians discover that it is natural for them to provide humane health care and that they could exemplify the empathic nature of the profession most clearly.
However, there are many barriers to balancing the roles of being a physician with family life. Many women feel emotional conflicts to fulfilling their many roles. The stress that women physicians face is not so much derived from hard work but from other factors, such as the feelings of guilt that are felt every time they leave the family. There are several ways that women physicians could balance their professional lives with their private ones. First, women must become aware of their priorities and never compromise them. Most women believe that their family is most important; therefore, they should spend a sufficient amount of time with their families in order not to continuously experience guilt. Secondly, women physicians must respect themselves, and their values and decisions. Women must always make some time for themselves and do things that they enjoy. Making this time is especially important for women physicians who work long hours and may sometimes feel psychologically drained. Alone time, or down time, can really refresh a womanís spirits. Thirdly, being a wife, mother and physician are all extraordinary experiences. Thus, women should not miss any of these experiences by living in the moment. Sometimes women feel so overwhelmed with being overworked that they forget to take the time to enjoy every experience to the fullest. Fourthly, women should lower their expectations by doing the most important things and to either delegate or leave the rest for some other time without feeling guilty. Burnout is a reality for women physicians because they want to be super mom while still excelling as a physician. This is a problem that women physicians must continue to address.
In conclusion, Lo Chinís book has been a joy to read. Women in the medical profession will be able to relate to it and discover that they are not alone in their struggle to juggle obligations. Once women physicians learn to balance their professional and private lives, they will feel more self-ctualized, content, and less overwhelmed with their family life.
Lo Chinís book goes a long way towards helping women physicians achieve such a balance.
Irene Switankowsky, University of Waterloo