Female Doctors are More Likely to Save Your Life — But We Pay Them Half as Much

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New research has emerged showing that women are more likely to survive heart attacks if they’re treated by a female doctor. The result comes from a look at more than half a million heart attack cases over the course of 20 years in Florida. If you’re a woman and you think you’re having a heart attack, you can improve your chances of survival by 5.4% by seeing a female doctor about it.

At this point, if you’re a man who is on the Internet, you are probably asking the question, but what about the men? I’m so glad you asked, Donny. The study showed that men also had a better chance of surviving if their doctor is a woman (just not as drastic an improvement as the female patients saw).

But what about the male doctors, you probably want to know. The study also showed that male doctors were much more competent if they had increased exposure to female patients and female physicians. Not as competent as the female physicians, of course, but it’s something. All of this is particularly galling when you realize that another recent study showed that male doctors make about $100,000 more than female doctors every year. Men make twice as much money but kill more patients. But don’t worry, I’m assured by many Donnies on the Internet that sexism is a thing of the past. Nope, nothing to see here, just a normal, egalitarian society.

So why do female physicians do so much better than male physicians when a woman is having a heart attack? It may be due to a few things. For instance, the symptoms of a heart attack may be slightly different between men and women, with women experiencing lesser known symptoms like nausea and dizziness. But even for the well-known symptoms, like chest pain and arm numbness, women are more likely to brush it off as just being their imagination. Women tend to wait much longer than men to even seek treatment, which can mean the difference between life and death.

So how might female doctors make up for this disparity? Well, they may be more likely to know that women respond differently to heart attacks and be more alert for the red flags. They might be more likely to notice rarer symptoms, or to be able to tell when a woman is downplaying the severity of her condition. Female doctors may be more likely to have the personal experience that many women have of not being taken seriously by doctors, and they may use that experience to act more quickly and decisively in serious situations.

The moral of the story here isn’t simple. We can’t fix things just by telling women (and men) to only go see female doctors, though maybe that’s a good start. Ultimately, we as a society need to be better at validating women’s experiences with their own bodies. We need to take them seriously when something is wrong, and only then can we expect them to take it seriously themselves.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. That thing about warning signs of heart attack in women is especially important. There are still those (especially older doctors, people tend to cling to what they were taught, and the older you are, the more out of date that information is) who cling to the “small man” myth, that is, that male and female bodies are the same except for the genitalia and the larger mass of the male body.

    As for those male doctors, who knew that being isolated from half the population was a guaranteed path to medical incompetence?

  2. I wonder if there is enough data in the study to follow this effect over the twenty years of the study. I am a fairly recent (male) doctor, and we (in my med school class, 60% women, 40% men) were educated pretty thoroughly on the different symptomatology between women and men in the case of acute MI. Maybe this serious issue is in the process of being resolved. I sincerely hope so!

  3. I don’t know about survival rates, but I have noticed that at this point, all of my doctors are women. Even before I transitioned, when I was still living as a man, I noticed that the male doctors I encountered were more likely to ignore most of what I said and look for an easy answer to what (if anything) was ailing me, or look for an excuse to blame me. So far, all of my bad experiences have been with male doctors and almost all of my good ones have been with female doctors.

    My dentist (a woman) once sent me to a male endodontist for some gum surgery, and he just got mad when I made noises because I was scared and in pain. A few years later, she sent me to a woman for an implant, and even though she was mostly deaf, she did a better job of responding to my fears.

    I’ve found that women doctors are more likely to treat me like a human being (instead of a case to be disposed of as expeditiously as possible.) At the practice I go to now, I’ve only been seeing women, and they’ve been working with me for over a year to help me lose weight. (My old — male — GP would simply say “lose weight, goodbye!” whenever I went to him with a health issue.)

  4. It’s a great title Rebecca, the title says it all and suggests the solution.

    I generalise here.

    People have been brainwashed into regarding price as the most important criterion. Price is easy to quantify, quality is not.

    When you* are young and invulnerable or Republican and arrogant, thinking ill health is some sort of moral deficiency, you don’t think too much about it. When you are old or vulnerable, pregnant, or with young sick kids, the odds begin to stack up against you and you realise how important a good doctor is.

    Unfortunately in a Capitalist system, market forces rule and if everybody goes to the quick in and out sausage** factory type doctor, the more caring and careful type of doctor has fewer patients and relatively speaking is underpaid.

    Worse, the more caring doctor receives criticism for being behind schedule because they always devote additional time to patients with more serious problems.

    As you may remember my wife is a GP and we have lived with this shit for 40 plus years.

    So if you want to support the caring doctor, go and see them and support them when your problems are simple, as they may not be there when you really need them.

    *As always, You = plural you, not you in particular, I could say we
    **Sausage factory – male – see what I did there?!
    although there are many caring male doctors as well.

  5. Also, don’t fucking rock up to a 15 minute appointment with a shopping list of problems, schedule a longer session or see your doctor more frequently.

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