Overlooked And Dismissed: How Doctors Often Ignore Women’s Pain

By Indiana Lee

The medical industry has an ugly history of mistreating and ignoring women. For hundreds of years, social gender inequalities have been intensified under the watch of medical professionals and their array of devices and equipment. 

Even today, the health gap persists between men and women. As many as 50% of women diagnosed with depression are misdiagnosed. Symptoms of other illnesses are overlooked and women are given a psychiatric diagnosis, instead. 

The issue is even more perilous for women of color. A recent systematic review of the medical literature found that medical practitioners had an implicit preference for white patients, which may even result in different diagnoses being made based on race alone. 

Clearly, more has to be done to close the gender health gap. An intersectional approach is needed to ensure that all patients receive an equitable, personalized level of care. 

Reproductive Healthcare

Reproductive healthcare has been a front-page issue since Roe v Wade was overturned as millions of Americans no longer have access to the healthcare they need. This has created a hostile healthcare atmosphere in states like Idaho, where state employees at University of Idaho employees are warned against sharing basic reproductive healthcare information. 

The overturning of Roe v Wade may have a knock-on impact on women who suffer from endometriosis. 1 in 10 women have endometriosis at some point during their lives, yet many forgo medical attention due to the stigmatization of reproductive healthcare. Women who do seek help are often met with misdiagnoses. Shockingly, the average wait time for an accurate endometriosis diagnosis is 8 years. 

According to Gynecologist Dr. Shree Datta, women who suspect they have endometriosis should “record your symptoms and your periods in a diary or app so that you can discuss them with your doctor,” these records should include details like “any pain on having sex, opening your bowels, or urinating.”

If women who visit the doctor’s office feel they are being overlooked and dismissed, Dr. Datta recommends asking for a specialist directly and tracking interactions you’ve had in healthcare. Patients may even want to visit a reproductive psychiatrist specialist. Reproductive psychiatry is a growing field but may help women get the help they need in order to manage any pain-related challenges that arise from menstruation to menopause

Stigmas and Stereotype

Gender inequality is a persistent issue across all industries and professions. Stigmas and stereotypes continue to impact women in the corporate world and social spaces. However, the stakes are raised in healthcare, where misconceptions and stigmas can have a serious impact on women’s health and well-being. 

Even women who work in healthcare may fall foul of ingrained prejudice against women. When Camille Noe Pagán attempted to get help from her primary doctor — a relatively young, educated mother of small children with plenty on her plate — she faced challenges receiving the therapy and support she actually needed.  

The challenges Pagán experienced aren’t unique. They’re part of a repeated script in which women are prescribed less pain medication after surgery and are more likely to be diagnosed with psychosomatic pain. Likewise, 83% of women who face chronic pain report that gender discrimination has played a part in their treatment plan. 

Women of color who experience pain are even less likely to be taken seriously in the doctor’s office. A recent meta-analysis found that Black/African American patients were 22% less likely to be given the pain medication they need. 

Fixing the root of gender and racial discrimination is always going to be a tricky task. Misogyny and racism are deeply ingrained in society and may take generations to fully unpick our social fabric and re-stitch it. However, today’s healthcare professionals can rally around efforts to better understand gendered, racist stereotypes that exist in healthcare in order to give patients greater access to equitable, accurate healthcare. 

Improvements and Targeted Care

It’s worth noting that the healthcare industry is increasingly aware of sexism and racism. More is being done to give women and women of color access to the healthcare they need today. Rather than demonizing healthcare as a whole, we need to champion those who are working hardest to provide a more equitable service to all patients. 

Adrienne Hibbert is a shining example of what can be done to reduce prejudice and treat women’s pain properly. Hibbert, who set up a network to help folks find Black doctors in South Florida, is undoing some of the hurt caused by healthcare in previous decades. Black patients can work with Hibbert’s network to find doctors who are less likely to dismiss their pain and share social experiences. 

The doctor promoted on Hibbert’s website displays many of the important healthcare leadership qualities needed to better serve patients. They are able to use interpersonal skills to truly hear women who describe their pain and have the technical know-how to overcome stereotypes and stigmas to give patients the treatment they actually need. 

Women’s Pain Must Be Taken Seriously

Women’s pain has been misdiagnosed and dismissed for generations. Despite recent progress, much needs to be done to ensure that stereotypes and stigma don’t prevent women from getting the help they need. Fortunately, many doctors — like those highlighted by Adrienne Hibbert — are doing their part to take women’s pain seriously and address inequality in the healthcare industry. 

Indiana Lee is a writer, reader, and jigsaw puzzle enthusiast from the Pacific Northwest. An expert on business operations, leadership, marketing, and lifestyle, you can follow her on Twitter @IndianaLee3

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