• Laura Vater

Placed into a "maternal category"

Nearly four years ago, I was a third-year medical student completing my surgical rotation. I was also eight months pregnant. I knew many surgeons who operated well into their third trimester, and I would be no exception. I was excited to learn.


On my first day, the resident greeted me with indifference. A glance at my abdomen, a glance away. I was instructed to take a seat. “He treats all students like this,” I thought. But his apathy toward me continued.


He ignored me during case presentations, even when I knew answers others did not. Rather than being challenged like other students, he left me alone. There was limited teaching, limited interaction... a clear difference from other students.


I rationed that his behavior was unconscious, or that perhaps he thought he was doing me a favor. But he treated me differently because I was a pregnant woman, because of his presumption of what that meant. It was as if he placed me into a “maternal category,” one that questioned my competence and commitment to medicine. I felt cheated out of learning, and worse, he made me feel invisible and valueless.


I worked hard anyway. I found allies among other students and staff physicians (many of whom had been pregnant themselves). I found other ways to learn, and still did well on the rotation. But I never confronted the resident. I downplayed it all and made excuses. There were power dynamics at play, grades at stake. I wish I would have spoken up. I would say this to him now:


Having a baby hasn’t lessened my commitment to medicine. It has not made me an ineffective doctor. Raising my daughter has increased my empathy toward humanity and my capacity to love. It has trained me to persist despite periods of fatigue and physical pain.


Discriminating against those who bring life into this world degrades the medical profession and lessens the perceived value of human life. Yes, women may choose to have children during medical school, but don’t forget that they are future doctors. Train them. Challenge them. Inspire them. And change your mind about their worth.

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© 2020 by Laura Vater. All rights reserved.