Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Friendship and Female Physicians
I've noticed over the past several years that it hasn't always been easy for me to make friends.
Sometimes I wonder if I'm the reason. Am I simply un-like-able?
When I was in grade school I constantly found myself blurting out goofy things and wincing afterward. I'm sure my social awkwardness cost me some friendships at that age.
Then there was high school Oy. Recently a friend from high school whom I've always admired told me I could sometimes be intimidating back then. ME?! Intimidating?! But I'm so sweet! And shy, and awkward! And un-tall! But I suppose my love of Renaissance history, French poetry, and molecular biology might have struck some people as off-putting...
I had a great time in college. I found like-minded people, kindred spirits, people in different spheres who loved a lot of the same activities, subjects, books, etc. I made some life-long friends in college, as many of us do (and a few good friends in med school and internship as well, though not as many).
I can think of a few things that can make building new friendships and maintaining existing ones hard after college. Relocation. Marriage. Parenthood. Jobs.
And if your job is in medicine as a resident of some kind, you get the added challenge of sleeplessness, no time, no energy, no patience, high stress, contact with suffering on a daily basis, making lonely decisions in what can be an isolating profession, all free time spent sleeping or running errands. Relationships of all kinds suffer during residency; friendships are no exception.
But I think there's yet an additional layer for female doctors. I can't quite put my finger on what it's made of, but it's there.
When people find out you're a doctor - that's if you can even get around to meeting new people in the first place - sometimes their whole vibe toward you can change. It's almost imperceptible, but there's a turn somewhere. It's there. A pulling back, maybe, or the inexplicable sudden presence of an invisible veil between you and the person you'd like to befriend who happens not to be a physician.
I'm not sure why that happens, or even if I'm making something out of nothing. Women-doctors want to hang out and watch chick flicks as much as any group of women friends, or go to cafes to chat, or cook together. Why the sudden barriers?
I have a friend - a drop-dead gorgeous, brilliant, super-sweet, supportive-beyond-measure, talented, couldn't-be-nicer friend, fellow-mom, and fellow-physician - who meets with a group of women on a regular basis to engage in a much-enjoyed activity. She told me that for a long time she didn't tell the other members of the group she was a doctor. She was concerned they might not be as relaxed, or their attitude to her might change, with the knowledge of her profession. I have another, newer friend - also multi-talented, also a fellow-mom and physician, very nice, with lots of different interests - who has observed a shift in others when she strikes up a conversation but then reveals that she's a doctor.
I don't think we're all just imagining this. There's something about us female physicians that seems to make some people hesitate to get too close, which makes making friends even harder in the context of busy, demanding lives juggling work and family. I tried googling "women doctors" and "friendship" to see if I could learn more, but no one seems to be talking about this much, or I'm not looking in the right places, or no one else thinks there's an issue.
Do male physicians experience anything similar? Am I just being over-sensitive? I don't know. But I do think the whole subject of physicians and friendship in general, and women doctors in particular, is worth exploring.
The painting above is by Filipino master Fernando Amorsolo, whose depictions of ordinary country life in the Philippines are among his best-loved works.