For Dr. Marla Haller, gender stereotypes are all too common in her medical profession, especially from one particular patient she dealt with.
“I introduced myself,” Haller said. “They looked at me with this odd look and said, ‘You’re the doctor?’ I said ‘Yes I am… what did you expect?’ They said ‘Well, I expected someone who looked very different.'”
But Haller said even though the stereotype and gender bias are still there, female employment in the medical field is advancing.
According to the Pew Research Center, the share of women in health-related, life science, and physical science positions increased nationwide since 1990.
“Women bring a lot to the table with regards to thoughts, ideas, thinking outside the box,” Haller said.
For West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine student Lindsey Kent, completing her pediatrics curriculum comes with its own challenges, but she knows the bigger picture will be reality, no matter what the numbers say.
“From time to time, I do see see some gender bias. I’ll be called nurse when I introduce myself as a student,” Kent said. “I do see myself taking on a role as a leader, whether it’s in medical teaching or medical administration… I definitely want to practice for the major part of my career.”
Even though gender equity has a long way to go, Haller is already proud of what her practice is producing.
“We talk about the glass ceiling and I think it’s cracked,” Haller said. “It’s not yet shattered.”
According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, only 34 percent of female graduates from the class of 2018 successfully entered the workforce. Just 22 percent were in leadership positions.
But even though leadership positions in the medical field are one of many considered male-dominant, some women are setting the gold standard.
For Kristi Atha-Rader, she became the first female CEO for Rainelle Medical Center in its 45-year history. Since taking over the position in 2008, the medical center added dental offices and opened four additional rural clinics throughout southern West Virginia.
Atha-Rader credited not just her colleagues, but also her upbringing.
“My parents and my grandparents pushed me that I can do anything I wanted to do and I can be anything that I wanted to be,” Atha-Rader said.
Atha-Rader said two more rural clinics will open in Hillsboro, Pocahontas County and Hico, Fayette County this year.