We’re Speaking Up!

I was amazed and delighted by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s speech on July 23rd, standing up and speaking out for herself and on the behalf of all women. I was cheering when #medbikini took over #medtwitter and IG, and FB.  I thought I would add to the “death to misogyny!” movement with recollections of a time when I stood up for myself — only my colleagues remained silent.

Your ancestors did not survive everything that nearly ended them for you to shrink yourself to make someone else comfortable.

This sacrifice in your warcry, be loud, be everything and make them proud.

Nikita Gill

As a medical student, I was finally starting my clinical rotations; a time of great anticipation and celebration among medical students and their families! After two years of book learning, I was going to be called “doctor” and wear my short white doctor’s coat. I was thrilled!  As we gathered in the lecture hall, and over the hubbub of my equally excited classmates, I noticed the huge screen down in front. Now, this is dermatology rotation and I don’t like skin lesions very much- they are kind of disgusting, but I chuckle nervously to myself at the thought that I am going to learn medicine from the outside in. That seems appropriate somehow. “That’s cool.” And then, I realized how big those icky skin lesions are going to be on that ginormous screen. If I wasn’t so excited to reach this milestone in my training, I would have been a little nauseous at the thought. I stuff my trepidation and drop into my seat to settle in.

The door swings open and the senior faculty dermatologist walks in. He is dressed in his crisp, very white, and long lab coat indicative of his “real doctor” status and begins to call the roll. “Doctor Abbott” he bellows. “Oh my gosh, I am going to be called doctor for the first time today!”, I think to myself while shifting forward in anticipation. “Doctor Adams!”, the bellowing continues. Somehow it reminds me of the Herald of the ball. He is heralding in my future as a doctor! “Doctor Adkins, Doctor Ballenger…”, he continues. “Wait, wait – my name wasn’t called…”, I almost yelled out-loud.

I am immediately lost in my thoughts; worrying about being in the wrong class, or possibly invisible, or discovered as the imposter medical student I feel like. “Someone must be on to my dis-qualifications”, my inner “no confidence” voice goes on and on. “Maybe I am not really here…”, I am thinking when I hear “Doctor Hay!” in that bellowing voice. “What did he just say?” I pop up from my chair, “Excuse me sir, but my name is Robyn Alley-Hay, not Robyn Hay. I am Dr. Alley-Hay.” I sit down, feeling the issue is settled, except it isn’t. “Dr. Hay is what I am calling you!” he retorts. I rise out of my chair. “What?” I shake my head- hoping it will help me understand what I am hearing. “I don’t understand. My name is Robyn Alley-Hay legally, my husband will be Dr. Hay, not me. There must be a mistake that needs to be rectified on the class roll”.  Then his words land on me with violence and viciousness, “I don’t believe in hyphenated names, so you are Dr. Hay.” I could feel my blood starting to boil at the same time I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. I take a deep breath, “That is not acceptable to me. My name is Dr. Robyn Rene’ Alley-Hay.” Now I am feeling the tears start to well up in my eyes. I push them back.  I am starting to feel that familiar pit in my stomach. “I am not Dr. Hay and I refuse to be called a name that is not mine!” My fellow students are getting nervous and shifting in their seats, yet the silence of their voices hurts my ears. They look scared. “Well, Dr. Hay, I guess you’ll just have to be “Dr. Hay”, (he gestures air quotes) if you want to continue medical school.”

It is at that moment that I embrace my inner bitch; my power reserved for such occasions. Up to this point in my training, I know she is there to be called out when needed. Lord knows I’ve had to call to her many times in medical school so far. “Bitch Robyn, please be with me”, because I just want to crawl under a table and die right now. I blurt out, “I am going to speak with the dean about this.” I hear a soft collective gasp and sense a stirring and low murmuring around me, like “did she just say that?”. Students shift in their chairs with the awkward moment. Everyone is holding their breath, waiting for what he is going to say. In a softer, but authoritarian tone, he says, “I’m sorry young lady” (like he’s John Wayne, or something), but you’re just going to have to do that. Good luck.”

As I gather my things to walk out, I look around, scanning for a sympathetic face. Instead, my classmates are looking at their feet, or textbook. “They probably wish there was a big icky skin lesion on that ginormous screen to stare at and not have this awkward moment”, I think. Painful silence. I am still holding back tears and my face is flushing. The pit has gone from my stomach to my feet and feels like it keeps on going beyond the floor below me. “It is going to swallow me up”, but I keep it together as I walk out. I am trying to see my way out through tears that are precariously close to spilling out from the deep wells for such tears in my eyes. “Is anyone going to say anything? Do they all think this is ok?” I give one last glance and the faces are blank. “Am I crazy?” I ask myself as I stand up straight, square my shoulders, put my chest out a bit, sling my backpack onto my shoulder, and walk out of the class in that painful silence.

The silence is the worst part of this memory.

Thank you, congresswoman, for speaking up.

Thank you, women in medicine, for social media posts of yourselves in bikinis as a quick and powerful response to misogynists in medicine that thought “unprofessionalism” and stalking women physicians on social media on behalf of pseudoscience was a good idea. I bet they were surprised at the reaction! 

We’re speaking up! Will they listen?

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