Gender Bias in Medicine

Last updated: September 2022

Discrimination is WRONG! Whether it is based on gender, religion, race, or any other reason, it is wrong. Sadly, the place I have seen the most discrimination is in the realm of medicine, mostly toward minorities, women, and people with chronic pain.

I have witnessed it often in my years of being a registered nurse at the bedside. I am sad to admit it, but early on in my career, I probably judged a few books by their covers. But that all changed when I became chronically ill and gained a patient perspective during my many emergency room visits, hospital admissions, and doctor appointments.

Unfortunately, as healthcare providers, we see so many people who do not come in with legitimate issues. Or, they are not truthful about what really happened before they came in, or what activities they participate in during their daily life. As a provider, you become jaded, and it can be easy to make assumptions about people before you even meet them, based solely on what you see in the chart or what you get in a report from a different provider. All that said, IT IS WRONG.

Discrimination against women and people with chronic pain

What has shocked me the most is the prominence of gender bias in medicine, along with discrimination against those with chronic pain. I cannot begin to count the number of providers over the years who thought I was exaggerating the severity of my pain, and I am not alone in this experience. A survey done in 2018 found that doctors and dentists believe that women exaggerate their level of pain. The fact that 40 percent of the providers surveyed were women blows my mind!1

A study published by the National Library of Medicine found that women who go to the ER complaining of acute pain are less likely to get any kind of opioid pain reliever than men reporting similar issues. It also found that on average women in the ER have to wait an average of 65 minutes, versus men having to wait 49 minutes.2,3

Women reporting signs of a heart attack also experience bias, partially due to the fact that heart attack symptoms can vary greatly. A study published by the British Heart Foundation found that women are 50 percent more likely than men to receive a wrong initial diagnosis for a heart attack, which can increase 30-day mortality by 70 percent.4

Where is the improvement?

Women and minorities living with chronic pain and/or heart disease are seen differently by many providers than men with the same complaints. We live in a time when there is so much information available on these topics, as well as studies showing the prevalence of gender bias and other discrimination. With increased awareness, you would think these problems would improve, but they have not.

Have you experienced bias in medicine based on your gender, condition, or other factors? Please share in the comments below.

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