On March 8th of every year, women around the world strike, get together, and speak out for continued advancements in gender equality including equal pay, reproductive autonomy, stopping sexual assault and expanding access to healthcare around the world. It’s an annual opportunity to reflect on areas that need attention and to raise awareness about issues that affect women.
Among the many issues that affect women globally, from the poorest countries to the richest, healthcare is one of the most critical. Improving women’s health makes societies stronger.
Countless women simply don’t feel like their doctors are taking them seriously.
We conducted a survey in honor of International Women’s day and 77% of respondents felt that their doctors had ignored them or been dismissive of their health concerns. This was true of both male and female doctors.
This type of neglect can have a profound impact on a woman’s health. Research shows that women are often under-prescribed pain medication. And when symptoms are written off, a misdiagnosis becomes more likely. In 2018, a number of celebrities opened up about their healthcare experiences, including a Vogue cover story with tennis superstar Serena Williams, who had a pulmonary embolism the day after an emergency c-section. Her persistence with dismissive medical professionals likely saved her life.
When we asked the women of the Health Stories Project community about their experiences and what they wanted people to know about their lives, the responses poured in. Many women included thoughts for healthcare providers in hopes that perhaps they’ll listen and learn.
Read more of their words below.
Women know their bodies.
“A person, woman or man, knows their body better than a physician! Everybody’s body reacts differently to illness and disease so physicians need to work with the patient to achieve health, not against them.” – Robin (fibromyalgia, migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus)
“Women truly understand their bodies and know when something seems ‘off’ or ‘wrong.’ [Doctors should] take the time to listen to their symptoms and the effects they have on their lives. Don’t dismiss so quickly and offer any and all types of testing to make sure all bases are covered. A holistic view of health would be beneficial for everyone suffering.” – Heather (anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, autoimmune disease).
“Women know their bodies best. Years of menstrual cycles tell us more than a degree can tell you.” – Ronnie (endometriosis, PMDD, uterine fibroids, rheumatoid arthritis).
Judgment isn’t helpful.
“Too many doctors ignore symptoms or quickly dismiss them to talk about how if we would just lose weight, everything would be resolved. Don’t rush to judgment.” – Anonymous (primary biliary cholangitis, depression, polycystic ovary syndrome)
“We may be in tears in your office due to severe anxiety or depression beyond our control. Please don’t write us off as ‘hysterical women.'” – Mariah (anxiety, depression, psoriasis)
“I get judged because I have a full sleeve of tattoos and wear dark eyeliner and have long hair that’s black.” – Victoria (anxiety, bladder control issues, depression, endometriosis, stroke, Crohn’s)
Believing women is important.
“I am not exaggerating my pain and it is not all in my head.” – Patty (anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia)
“Yes, I’m a female but that does not mean I’m a hysteric. Please, listen to me and take all my feelings and symptoms together before you dismiss me as a nut job.” – Shirley (anxiety, breast cancer, high blood pressure, depression, stroke)
“Living with uncertainty is tough. We’re not crazy but our conditions change from day to day. Noticing these changes means we understand our bodies and are taking responsibility for our health.” – Christa (anxiety, mixed connective tissue disease, RA, lupus)
Two-way communication is an essential part of healthcare.
“Practice active listening. One symptom may very well lead to an earlier diagnosis. And please communicate! The [doctor’s online] patient portal is encouraged but a hassle when I have to email several times to get an answer.” – Rhonda (osteoarthritis, TMD, dyspareunia, endometriosis)
“Just listen. It’s not attention-seeking. Don’t make assumptions. There’s a working brain in my body.” – Danita (anxiety, depression, high blood pressure)
“We are hurting and doctors need to take us seriously, not just prescribe us drugs but help us understand what is wrong and to empower us to get better.” – Sandy (fibromyalgia)
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