Some of my: Inventions | Magazine interviews | Sheds | Favorite ER memories

Information for people contemplating
a career in emergency medicine and
other medical specialties

By Kevin Pezzi, MD

Women in Medicine Part 3
Can women "have it all?" That is, can they be good mothers, wives, daughters, friends, neighbors, and still be good doctors?
Are women as competent as men?
Are women achieving their potential?
What can women do to achieve more?

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A question from another person that pertains to this topic, at least tangentially:

Students in a library, possibly studying to become doctors

Q: In general, who makes better ER docs: men or women?


Answer by , MD: A few days ago I watched a documentary which claimed that there are definite differences in the brains of women and men. One of the differences discussed was that women excel at multitasking; that is, doing many things at once, rather than serially attending to problems. From a teleological perspective, I suppose the facility in multitasking is especially beneficial to women because women typically assume more of a hands-on role in childrearing, and children have an amazing ability to create multiple simultaneous demands. Hence, with this innate attribute, women theoretically have an easier time adapting to the helter-skelter conditions often present in emergency rooms. I've known some female emergency room docs who seemed to weather the demands of the ER quite well, but I've seen even more men who are equally adept—probably because there are many more male ER doctors.

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Personally, I don't like multitasking, unless it is something that I'm doing of my own volition—such as when I'm exercising, watching a videotape, and working on one computer while I'm using another computer to print out something. Given a choice, I'd much rather focus all my attention on one patient before going on to the next problem, but that isn't often possible unless the ER is very slow. So, while I don't like multitasking and I doubt that I was born with much of an ability to do it, I've trained myself to do it fairly well. I could perform surgery on a patient while talking to the doctor of another patient on the telephone (I'd have a nurse or tech hold the phone in place) while listening to someone else give a report on an incoming trauma patient. My dream job? Hell no! My idea of ER nirvana is when I'd wave goodbye to one patient—the last patient in the ER—while watching another patient approach the triage desk. Then I'd be able to expedite that patient's treatment. I'd personally triage the patient (relieving the triage nurse so she or he could take a break), then whisk the patient back to the ER, complete the H&P, and order the necessary tests and treatment . . . all before a typical patient could finish reading the first of many magazine articles in the waiting room.

Bottom line? While women may possess more of an inherent ability to multitask, I think the human brain is sufficiently plastic that we can adapt to a remarkable variety of circumstances. Thus, I don't think that women are necessarily superior ER docs. In fact, the best ER physicians I've known are men, but this may just reflect the fact that most ER docs are men.

Follow-up from Stephanie: Thank you for answering my question. I am writing a term paper for college in which my thesis is that women are more competent than men—not just better ER doctors, but I asked you that because you're an ER doc. Thanks again, Stephanie

Are women more competent than men?

Response from Pezzi: What makes you think that women are more competent than men? If you are discussing competence in a general sense, I think that there is more evidence to substantiate the notion that men are more competent because men often possess a wider range of skills and documented abilities. I hate to mention this, because most of my readers are women, and I'd rather not provoke their ire by saying something that smacks of political incorrectness. But you fired the first shot over the bow, so to speak, so if you want my opinion, you have it.

Follow-up from Stephanie: Men are more competent? Ha!

Response from Pezzi: If you want to sway my opinion, you'll have to think of a more compelling argument than to just use the interjection "ha."

Follow-up from Stephanie: You want facts? Take me, for example. I have a 3.7 grade point average, I write poetry and songs, I can play the flute, I'm an ice skater, and I can paint quite well. Show me a more diversified man!

Response from Pezzi: OK, I will. Me.

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Follow-up from Stephanie: You? You're an ER doc, but let me guess . . . in your spare time you probably golf and watch sports on television. Wow, I'm impressed. You're very diversified. I hope you can tell that my response is dripping with sarcasm. I'm sick of men who don't realize that women are generally far more competent. In our society, men usually work, take out the trash, and mow the lawn. Women do everything else. I've never known any man who possesses the range of competency that women usually have. Yet what does our society do? It glorifies men! I could scream!!!!

Response from Pezzi: Forget to take your Prozac, or maybe your Haldol? Sheesh! What planet are you living on? You've never known any man who can do more than take out the trash and mow the lawn? Does the phrase "living in an insular world" mean anything to you? Yes, there are men who substantiate your stereotype, but there are also women who possess an amazing absence of competency who get through life by smiling at men, plying their other coquettish guiles, and spreading their legs three times per week. Many insects manifest a more impressive range of skills!

Follow-up from Stephanie: Women are superior, but you're just too stupid to realize it! Oh, and by the way, when I asked you to show me a more diversified man, you mentioned yourself, but you never substantiated that claim in any way. No doubt because you can't substantiate it! Typical man . . . all hype. Now do you see why this issue pisses me off so much?

Response from Pezzi: No, I don't, but it does make me wonder if you've ever been laid. Speaking purely as a doctor, of course.

Follow-up from Stephanie: See? I proved my point. Whenever I ask for substantiation of your claim about your supposed competence, you change the subject! Ha-ha, I gotcha, doc! You can run, but you can't hide!

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Response from Pezzi: But I'd like to, at least from you. OK, you asked for it. My college GPA was 3.94 (on a 4.0 scale)—and that was before the days of grade inflation, and in a course load consisting primarily of chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, and other challenging science classes, while working two jobs (sometimes three), one of which involved a three-hour commute. My grades and MCAT scores were high enough that I was accepted into medical school before I finished college, whereas almost everyone else must first obtain a baccalaureate. In medical school, I graduated second in a class of 256 students—and, incidentally, the top person was not a woman. I've written several books—and a few songs and poems, especially if I'm enamored by some pulchritudinous woman, particularly if she doesn't have a chip on her shoulder. :-) I can't play the flute, but I played the electronic organ when I was a child, and I've sung to an audience of millions on the radio. I can make just about anything, from a robot that mowed my lawn (by the way, the current robotic lawn mowers are Stone Age compared to mine. They just wander aimlessly, while mine mowed in perfectly straight rows, knew just where every row was, turned itself around at just the right time, had a variety of accident-avoidance sensors, could compensate for the growth of trees, and turned itself off as soon as the job was through), to a wide range of medical devices, new tools, innovative household gadgets, and hundreds of other inventions. I developed a new technique of fractional multiplication and two ways to achieve radar transparency.

I can't paint or draw very well, but I can produce beautifully hand-carved doors, cupolas, or sheds (I even made one that looks like a lighthouse), and do just about every task involved in building a house from felling the trees on the building site with a chainsaw, to rough carpentry, finish carpentry, building countertops and trusses, laying tile and carpet, doing electrical and plumbing work, etc. I can perform surgery so well that nurses who wanted cosmetic surgery would sometimes have me do it, rather than a plastic surgeon. I can cook, bake, sew, and clean better than any woman I've met. (And I love to shop! :-) I can make custom candy bars that look as if they were made in a factory. I know as much about Nikola Tesla as I do about Thomas Edison, and I know all the words to the national anthem (judging from Sean Hannity's "Man on the Street" interviews, most people don't know what comes after "I pledge allegiance to the flag . . ."). The other day I heard Dave Barber, probably the most engaging and provocative talk show host in this state, ask a military cadet if he knew the Caisson Song, which should be something every cadet is familiar with. The cadet didn't have a clue, but I knew the words ("Over hill, over dale, we have hit the dusty trail, and those caissons go rolling along . . .") because I heard that song when I was a kid, and the words stuck with me. I also still remember our telephone number when I was three years old. I know more about nutrition than your family doctor and school nutritionist combined, and I know more about sex than Dr. Ruth. (Want proof?) I know how to make babies smile, even when they're indifferent to their parents. I know how to raise a cat so that it is perennially playful. I figured out just what caused cellulite, when other supposed "experts" were incorrectly asseverating that it was caused by "toxins." I know how to lose weight without dieting, drugs, herbs, exercise, or surgery. I thought of ways to get rid of wrinkles that don't require lasers and thousands of dollars. I knew how to transform my body (which was once disgusting) into something that would not look out of place on the cover of a magazine (most doctors think they know how to get in shape, but why are they so fat?). I made a motorized toboggan. Why? Because I thought it'd be fun. It was. I also made a radio-controlled snowmobile—and not from a kit, either. From scratch. I also made a copying machine . . . also from scratch. I know how to make a combination lock whose combination cannot be forgotten by its owner, even if he has Alzheimer's disease. I know how to make devices that make it safer for people with chronic medical problems (such as diabetes, seizures, or heart disease) to live alone. I've made EKG circuits that cost less than an order of fries at McDonald's. I figured out how to make a ROM (Read-Only Memory) chip behave as if it were a complete computer. I also thought of a way to make a printhead out of scraps costing less than a penny. I can make craft items fancier than those produced by people who do that professionally. I can take a lawn mower that doesn't run and make it more powerful than the day it came out of the factory. I can take those ubiquitous free CDs from AOL and turn them into an engine, fan, or pump (when I have the time, I'll post a page showing pictures of these gizmos.) I thought of a simple device that could reduce ohmic losses of electricity, and thereby save people money on their electrical bills. (People of California, what are you waiting for?) I thought of a new type of wheel that is unlike any wheel you've ever seen before, even in science fiction movies. It will do things that are impossible with conventional wheels. I've invented things that would terrorize terrorists and make burglars wish they'd chosen an honest way to make a living. I also invented a device that would trick rapists and other thugs into killing themselves. Yes, I can do more than operate a remote control, drag trash to the curb once per week, and mow the lawn.

Q & A continues below this picture

One of the sheds I made (see more of them)

Follow-up from Stephanie: You're a typical man . . . you love to brag!

Response from Pezzi: If I wanted to brag, I'd mention all my accomplishments, not the 5% that I just did. Incidentally, you're the one who asked for it by demanding that I substantiate my claim that I'm more diversified than the knuckle-dragging stereotype of men you seem to possess. Before you continue denigrating men, perhaps you should take a dispassionate look at the world around you.

Follow-up from Stephanie: What do you mean?

Response from Pezzi: Transistors. Integrated circuits. The internal combustion engine. The automobile. Jet engines. Rockets. Gunpowder. The Internet. Television. The telephone. Fax machines. The electric light. Electric motors. Air conditioning. The copying machine. And something that no doubt is near and dear to your heart, the vibrator. What do all these inventions have in common? They were all invented by men. The world we live in is one that we've created by innumerable inventions, 99% of which were conceived by men. I'm sure you won't mention this fact in your paper, since it doesn't mesh with your image of men.

Follow-up from Stephanie: So you hate women?

Response from Pezzi: No, I don't. What makes you think that? Most of my friends are women, probably because I can see that many of them have a lot more to offer than sex. However, I clearly think you're off base by trying to diminish the value of what men do. Judging by the facts, we've done a lot. Isn't college supposed to be about expanding your horizons, rather than perpetuating your biases? If so, you're doing an abysmal job. In my opinion, instead of belittling men by alleging that we lack general competency, your paper should explore the complementary attributes of men and women. In other words, what we "bring to the table," to put it colloquially.

Follow-up from Stephanie: Such as?

Response from Pezzi: I'll give you an example. The people who purchased my first home also bought my lawn tractor. When I unpacked at my new home, I discovered that my movers packed the tire chains to the mower, so I stopped by one day to drop them off. She invited me in to see how she'd decorated the home, and I was amazed. The house looked so different, I found it difficult to believe it was the same house. She'd decorated it in a way that was so warm, inviting, and homey—something that no man I've seen could do. The ability to create a cozy home is valuable, though often taken for granted . . . except by me. I don't think the differences between the sexes should be decried; I think they should be relished. Men and women are complementary, in its truest sense. Not rivals or competitors. Partners, each of whom adds something special.

Follow-up from Stephanie: Ha-ha, I did trick you! I didn't believe everything I said, but I thought by assuming such a radical viewpoint, I could goad you into giving me some good points to use in my paper! I incorporated them, and I got an "A." Thanks, doc! :-))

Update: About a year after I answered the above question, I received an e-mail from a woman who wanted to know why women achieve less than men even though they possess comparable intelligence. My response to her was more comprehensive than the above answer, and I broached topics that everyone should be discussing. Here is that exchange:

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