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Women at Yale: A view from students in their own words

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2018 - Spring


Women medical students share thoughts about the School of Medicine.

Yale School of Medicine consists of many viewpoints. Tenured faculty, adjuncts, postdoctoral fellows, clinicians, residents and administrators all have unique perspectives. It is also a place where students go to learn the fundamentals of healing and leading. Yale Medicine Magazine asked three students their thoughts about being female at YSM.

Cheryl Zogg, an MD/PhD student going into her third year at the medical school, is positive about the school’s culture. “I have always felt welcome here,” she says. “As someone who’s planning to go into a very male-dominated field, surgery, there have been times that I’ve looked around and been aware of myself as a female. … Ultimately, that’s never felt like a negative or something that’s held against me. Yes, I am a woman, but that’s secondary to what I want to accomplish.”

Asked about the role of mentorship, she observes that “At the end of the day, I am trying to be the best student and researcher that I can be. Everyone at YSM is tapping into a long and proud tradition of leadership and inspiring role models. A large part of that at the moment is white, middle-aged men.”

Careful to point out that her positive experiences at YSM are based on years of advocacy, Zogg adds that things could improve. “Looking at the women’s fountain [outside Sterling Memorial Library] is a humbling reminder that things have changed and are continuing to change, and that there’s still room to grow,” she says.

Sue Xiao, a fourth-year medical student, is circumspect when it comes to gender and racial equality. “Although we’ve made a lot of progress over the last 100, 150 years, medicine is still taught from a male-dominated perspective, both in terms of theories and the history of the field. We learn about discoveries that were made by men, and that were obviously the result of social factors that promoted men to be in leadership positions where they could take advantage of those discoveries.”

Xiao believes that imbalance in gender and race are two sides of the same coin. “My first year here I participated in an Asian-American interest group. There were three students to each mentor. And given the number of Asian-Americans now in medical school and medicine, it felt like there weren’t as many faculty here. There’s definitely room to improve.”

Her classmates were instrumental in helping Xiao feel welcomed on campus. “There’s a generational gap as well. Perhaps 30 years ago, there were fewer minority students entering medicine and then academia, and the faculty numbers would reflect that.” she says. “My male classmates are allies, too. We’re all part of a movement—we support each other. It’s broader than any individual.”

“I found the most amazing group of friends, my med school colleagues, as well as outstanding faculty mentorship,” says Libby Cummings, a fourth-year medical student who’s headed to a residency at the University of California, San Francisco. “I matched in primary care internal medicine, and I’ve been in a reflective mood, lately, finishing things up. This place has been a home, in terms of social support.”

Cummings’ social experience helps frame what she feels YSM does well, and also what she feels it could do better. “There’s a big push among students to make YSM feel more inclusive. I helped run the U.S. Health Justice student elective course, which is all about observation and empathy, and intersectionality,” Cummings says. “But while nobody has ever looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be a good doctor because you’re a woman,’ I’ve had interactions where I really feel the person does think that. It’s subtle. Patients making comments about my appearance, being harassed en route to the hospital in my white coat. Being interrupted frequently while presenting on rounds. When colleagues expect me to fulfill administrative roles on teams.”

Ultimately, Cummings is optimistic. “It’s cool to be here at a time when equality is such a big part of the conversation and people do want to grapple with it, even though there aren’t any easy fixes,” she says. “Role models are important. My mom was in the first class of women at Bowdoin, and ended up becoming one of the first women lawyers in Maine. I’m the first doctor in my family. These things are important.”