chapter  3
24 Pages

Women’s Entry into Medicine and Medical Practice in the United States

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of women’s position in the medical profession in the United States. In the next two chapters women’s medical careers in two other contexts—the Scandinavian countries and Russia/Soviet Union—will be presented. From a sociological point of view, the three social contexts will inform us about the collective mobility of women as they have aspired to a career in medicine. The argument advanced in this and the subsequent two chapters is that underlying the “heroine story” of the pioneering women in medicine were certain modes of production and concomitant structural constraints or opportunity structures, which not only influenced the careers of the individual pioneering women but also signaled the collective mobility of women in modern medicine as a social organization. In many countries, the admission of women to medical studies became a litmus test of the general societal view of women’s capacities to pursue higher education. At issue was a traditional view of woman’s biological destiny, which was assumed to set certain limits for her intellectual potential. Not only feminists but, more important, profeminist male mentors and administrative and political decision-makers challenged this notion and propagated a view of women that harbored the ideas of both the Enlightenment and contemporary liberalism and its views on individual rights. Still others argued that women’s specific task in medicine was due to women’s gender-typical skills, a view based on essentialist notions of femininity. The latter view was in many cases a common denominator among the conservatives and more progressive proponents, a notion that resulted in the admission of women into special tracks or programs designed for them. Nevertheless, despite the emergence of coeducational programs, women medical graduates entered a health care system that restricted women’s practice to certain gender-specific specialties and practices.34