Are Doctors Truly Listening to Women?: A Deep Dive Into Women’s Health

In her new book, “All in Her Head: The Truth and Lies Early Medicine Taught Us about Women’s Bodies and Why it Matters Today,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a breast cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, explores how the medical field has historically ignored and dismissed women’s health concerns. From misdiagnosing serious conditions to overlooking unique ways illnesses present in female patients, the book exposes the systemic biases ingrained in a traditionally male-dominated profession. 

However, this use extends far beyond the pages of Comen’s book. Women across the world continue to face uphill battles in having their symptoms properly evaluated and their voices heard by medical providers. Too often, their complaints are minimized, written off as overreactions, or simply missed entirely due to a lack of education about women’s health. 

This institutional failure has led to crises of misdiagnosis, delayed care, and preventable suffering. It is past time for the medical establishment to listen to women and take their health seriously. 

The systemic problem

One of the fundamental issues in women’s health and being heard is the lack of comprehensive training medical professionals receive regarding women’s health. This knowledge gap leaves doctors ill-equipped to identify and properly treat conditions that present differently in female patients. 

“I’m conducting some additional training at the moment because it’s been a while since I have,” Dr. Sulagna Misra, MD and founder of Misra Wellness, candidly admits. “Even though we physicians are professionally trained, none of us get properly trained in women’s health.”

The consequences can indeed be devastating, as Dr. Misra knows all too well having personally experienced her own mother’s misdiagnosis. “My mother was misdiagnosed,” she recalls. “She was told multiple times that she was given six months to live.” 

Missed or incorrect diagnoses rob women of precious time and appropriate care. Furthermore, the unique ways certain conditions manifest in women often go unrecognized. 

“We don’t get the ‘classic’ chest pain,” Dr. Misra points out about cardiovascular health. “We get the arm pain, back pain, indigestion, and other things, but those symptoms are too frequently ignored or misdiagnosed as something else entirely.”

“Part of the issue,” notes Dr. Mark Drucker, MD and key medical spokesperson for Beyond Slim®, “is that many physicians are not specifically trained for the illnesses they often treat. Also, they don’t always admit when they’re not capable of treating a person.”

With such system blind spots baked into medical training, it’s no wonder women so frequently find themselves dismissed, ignored, and failed by a system that doesn’t fully understand their biology. 

Emotional toll on women

Being brushed aside and doubted by medical professionals takes a heavy emotional toll on women. The anger, frustration, and sense of powerlessness can be all-consuming.

“I have learned to turn the anger and rage I feel in response to the gaslighting and disempowerment of women into fuel for change and advocacy,” expresses Rebecca Kase, founder of Kase & CO. “This incendiary emotion must be carefully channeled to inspire positive reforms rather than self-destructive bitterness.” 

Even more pernicious is the way these negative experiences can erode a woman’s sense of safety and silence her voice entirely. Without that crucial foundation of feeling heard and validated, many women remain trapped and unable to advocate for themselves. 

“In my work with female clients and trauma survivors, the key to unburdening ourselves from the patriarchal nonsense is to create safety first and foremost in our relationship,” Kase explains. “Safety allows people to find their voice, use it, and experience empowerment.” 

In some cases, the trauma of being ignored or mistreated by the medical system is seared into personal memories that never fade, even amongst their own. Dr. Misra recalls being “forced to work in Team Oncology ward for two months” shortly after her mother died from cancer — a cruel dismissal of her pleas for compassion that still cuts deep years later.

Paths forward

Remedying this systemic failing will require multi-pronged solutions across the medical field. First and foremost, professional education should be revamped to provide comprehensive training in women’s health issues. 

Dr. Michael Swor, MD FPMS and Chief Medical Officer of VagiBIOM, emphasizes the importance of truly listening to patients, “We must listen to them and process what they are trying to tell us, even if we may not always be right, as it usually points us in the right direction.”

Adopting more holistic and individualized treatment approaches is also key. Dr. Drucker recommends “a combination of good medical management, along with healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits” for conditions like PCOS, as this more well-rounded strategy moves beyond just treating symptoms.

Ultimately, a broader culture shift toward empathetic listening and genuine concern for female patients is needed across the medical profession. “Apart from clinical expertise,” Dr. Swor states, “the level of respectful listening and degree of concern shown typically separate the better from the worse” regarding quality care. 

By prioritizing women’s voices and lived experiences, providers can begin rectifying the failures of the past. In doing so, they can help build a healthcare system that not only listens to women but also empowers them to make their voices heard.

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