A feminist in the academy

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Author: Malika Sharma
Date: Nov. 13, 2017
From: CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal(Vol. 189, Issue 45)
Publisher: CMA Impact Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,565 words
Lexile Measure: 1680L

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As I returned from maternity leave to my fellowship in infectious diseases, I was desperate to prove that I was still a "good doctor" and a "good mother." Yet, after a week of rounding, reading around cases, scrambling to pump breast milk in call rooms, racing home for bedtime and revising manuscripts at night, I was the one who needed antibiotics. I was having the first of several painful episodes of mastitis after my return to work. Only later did I find a network of colleagues who let me pump, discuss career options and vent my maternal guilt in the safe spaces of their offices.

Women make up more than half of most medical school classes across the country. (1) Statistics, however, cannot tell us about the experience of navigating the academic medical space as a woman. Although we are beginning to discuss female representation in academia, we seldom question what a career in academic medicine can and should look like for men and women alike. As many clinicians will attest, when balancing clinical work, academic commitments, marriage, children and aging parents, something must give. So what gives, in the end? A study of medical marriages suggests that it is we, and not our institutions, who bend: we take up greater household and child care responsibility, we support each other through illness, gruelling residencies and time-consuming conference circuits, all while unflaggingly committing to our careers. (2) It is little surprise that many women (and men) find these double shifts exhausting.

What if institutions were structured to allow people to meet their own personal and familial needs, as well as those of patients and the academy? What would be such an institution's metrics of success? What would working there feel like? What would a "feminist" academic institution look like?

Feminism has evolved, from the suffrage-focused "first-wave feminism," to the legal-, reproductive- and workplace-inequality-focused "second-wave." Contemporary conversations about women in academic medicine have largely drawn from this "second wave," yet important critiques of this iteration include its failure to incorporate or account for the perspectives of racialized and queer women--critiques that have led to feminism's "third wave." Feminist academic institutions would need to go beyond demographic representation, which does not necessarily engender cultural shift--the pipeline to leadership positions remains leaky, with little discussion of how race, religion or sexual orientation, for example, affect...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A514158253