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Why do we stereotype so much in medicine?

whispering“I could never go into that specialty. They’re so passive aggressive.

“Those residents are so catty.

“Oh, them? They don’t even know their patient’s names.

“Those residents are such bros.”

And so on.

I guarantee you that if you’re in medicine – or even if you’re not –  it would take you no more than two guesses to figure out which specialty each of the above statements is describing. At some point during third year, I have heard each and every one of those sentences, and – full disclosure – have even made some of those statements myself, particularly during moments when I’m tired, hungry, and sick of studying for shelf exams. I’m not proud of it, but it is easy to slip into that mode. Why not, when everyone else is doing it?

Recently, these stereotypes have begun to gnaw at me more relentlessly. I’m applying in pediatrics this upcoming fall, and as many of you know, the stereotype for pediatrics is that people are outwardly nice but inwardly judgmental – i.e. the epitome of passive aggressive. During first and second year, I connected with numerous mentors in this field, all of whom were, to me, kind, intelligent, and generous with both their time and their advice. But then I entered the hospital environment as a clerkship student, where comments like those listed above are rampant. And all of a sudden, I felt myself feeling anxious about soon being lumped in with the pediatric stereotype.

This topic of inter-specialty trash talking came up during a recent visit I made to Boston, where I met up with friends studying at other medical schools, who had heard similar comments during their clinical years. As one friend pointed out, every single specialty has a place in the hospital: no one can argue that ob/gyn is less important than pediatrics, or that medicine is less important than surgery. Why then do we pass judgment on specialties in such a way that everyone comes away with a derogatory name tag, pinned right alongside the “MD” on their badges? Shouldn’t everyone feel happy and proud to have chosen the specialty they are passionate about?

As for me, I have found residents and attending physicians in every single rotation this past year with personalities I have loved and whose teachings I have benefited from. My general surgery residents went out of their way to tailor the rotation to my pediatric interests. My ob/gyn residents let me be hands-on with deliveries as early as my first week on the rotation. My medicine residents carved out time every single day to do “chalk talks” for me on various topics. My pediatric neuro attendings took us out to lunch once a week to bond as a team. All of these individuals share the common thread of being passionate about what they do each day and about educating the next generation of physicians. If anything, that should be the stereotype in medicine.

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category

Hamsika Chandrasekar is a third-year student at Stanford’s medical school. She has an interest in medical education and pediatrics.

Photo by Jamin Gray

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