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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Come SWIM!

It has begun.

'Oh (cue eyes rolling), what's happened NOW? Big deal, you're a female doctor.'

'I know, I thought so too, but this thing happened at work…'

'Can't you take a joke?' or 'Some people just have those views, we can't change them' or 'you'll just have to put up with it' or 'it's not a problem these days, it's not the 19th century!'.

And there. In one full swoop my ovaries and I have had enough. And some of my friends agree.  I hereby introduce you to: Sensible Women In Medicopolitics and Medicine (SWIM). Because we're not bra-waving feminists, or shouty-shouty whiners; we're just championing the awesome women who have gone before us, and the women we hope to be as we progress up the medical ladder.

The Guardian's list of top 100 women in Science and Medicine is indeed inspiring, but just one click away is the rather more depressing list of occupations where the pay gap is at its greatest - and doctors aren't faring so well. There is nearly a 30% difference in pay between male and female doctors.

I'm guessing but I'm pretty sure a lot of this is to do with many women not ascending up to the upper echelons of the medical command chain. Part of this may be rooted in early experiences of medical leadership. I became involved (heavily) as a medical student with the British Medical Association (BMA), and apart from anything else, it gave me a belief in myself that I previously lacked. When I chaired the medical students committee, I constantly worried that I was letting people down, despite amazing support from all and sundry, not least the BMA.  But at the end of it, I could honestly say I had been myself from start to finish and that it had been something resembling a success.  I realised I had to change my attitude and get positive.

Perhaps as women we lack that self belief? Why?

I think there are two crucial factors in women putting themselves forward. One is the 'tap on the back' - I would never have stood for that BMA post without that prod. Maybe one tap-on-the-back is all it takes, because after that you realise that without throwing your hat in the ring, you'll never get anywhere. Since then, I give everything a go, no matter how insane or beyond me it seems. Often I fail, but sometimes it pays off, and the experience is always valuable.

The other factor is the role model/mentor figure. I think (and perhaps I'm being controversial) there are two types of female role model - the 'look-I-made-it-in-a-man's-world' type, and the 'I'd-invite-you-round-for-dinner' type. I know which I prefer, and I've been extremely lucky already through my thus-far brief medical career to have known or observed many of the latter. It is extremely inspiring to observe women who are intelligent, eloquent and passionate about their subject, but ultimately also still human beings, who have made the most incredible contribution to medicine and science.

That's all very well and good, but what about us kids at the bottom of the ladder? This is where SWIM comes in. We believe in starting early with a positive vibe where leading the troops is concerned. We believe in being positive role models ourselves, recognising that everyone has the potential to be someone else's role model. And frankly we believe in a happy, healthy life and career.

Don't hesitate - become a SWIMer today!
Not sure how 'sensible'… ahem...