The old riddle goes like this: a man and his biological son are in a car accident because the man has a heart attack. They are both rushed to the hospital in pretty bad shape. The son is rushed to a trauma bay and the surgeon bursts in to examine him, then turns to the nurse and says: "I cannot operate on this boy, he's my son." How can that be?
When I first heard the story, I figured that it was the surgeon's adopted son. I didn't realize, of course, that the surgeon was actually the boy's mother.
When I was a new cardiologist, I remember reading that 95 percent of all cardiologists were male. That was back in the day when we let drug reps buy us lunch, give us pens and act interested in us. Is it any wonder that most of the drug reps that called on cardiologists were women? Is it any wonder that these women looked like they were hired away from the Victoria's Secret modeling pool?
And all of the initial studies about heart attacks were about patients who were like the majority of cardiologists: MEN.
Not that long ago, however, we realized that lots of these "crazy" women with anxiety or indigestion or difficulty breathing weren't really crazy after all. In fact, they were really just having heart attacks. Who knew? It was a shocker to learn that in addition to pap smears, mammograms, childbirth and breast cancer women also have to worry about heart attacks as much as men do.
You'd think that they'd be awarded a prize or something. Not quite.
My partner, Dr. Roshanak Bagheri, is a rarity: she is a woman cardiologist. She and Dr. Valerie Popkin are the only two female cardiologists practicing in New London County (including Backus and L&M). Both of them are great docs. And yet, I've seen both of them get mistaken for a nurse, a case manager, a social worker, a unit secretary. I don't know any male doctors who've been mistaken for anything but a doctor. Maybe people are surprised by a woman cardiologist.
I met a female patient who incorrectly referred to Dr. Bagheri as my "female assistant," which is, of course, a sad irony. Dr. Bagheri is not only one of the best trained cardiologists I know, she is also one of the best doctors I know, and one to whom I send my own family members. She has told me many times that what she loves about the U.S. is that everyone can have an opportunity based on their talent, not based on their gender or nationality.
They say you can always tell where the country is headed by following what the big corporations and big money is doing, so maybe we should be a bit heartened by the fact that the new breed of drug reps that come calling in our office still look like they could be models. Most of them, however, are now men.