Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick is one of the most eye-opening books that I’ve cracked open recently. Maya Dusenbery does a great job at sharing perspectives that had me questioning the medical care that I’ve received as a woman, the medical care that I’ve delivered as a physician and the potential for the future medical care that will be received by my daughters. Dusenbery is a feminist and a journalist who is editor of Feministing.com and she has done a great job at presenting the long-standing issue of sexism in medicine in her first book. She strives to present a well-researched, balanced view of both the sex and gender biases that are embedded within our health system.
Divided into three parts, the book utilizes a mix of anecdotal stories, historical facts and medical research to bring awareness to the systemic “knowledge gap” and “trust gap” that seem to be interlocking and mutually reinforcing problems within medicine causing women’s symptoms to be easily dismissed or mistakenly attributed to psychological etiology. She raises the question whether doctors know enough about women’s diseases, bodies and symptoms, and then she proceeds to show the facts that they probably do not. She also attacks the unconscious biases held by many throughout the history of medicine in regards to how seriously women’s symptoms should be taken. The “knowledge gap” and “trust gap” may have narrowed over time but they still exist and Dusenbery manages to tackle the discrepancies in a readable fashion for medical providers and patients alike.
As I was reading, I was reacting to the book on multiple levels. As a patient, I have experienced some of the dismissal of symptoms reported in many of the anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book. As a mother to daughters, I was excited by this book because of the potential to advance medical knowledge through discussions that are sure to be generated from more widespread dissemination of the type of information Dusenbery shares. As a physician, I struggle not to fall victim to the unconscious biases that lead to the dismissal of symptoms reported. Since reading, I have found myself making more of an effort with my patients to validate their symptoms, even if I cannot explain them.
Medicine is a constantly changing science and as physicians, we have a responsibility to be flexible and willing to change with it. Dusenbery’s book should be required reading for everyone as she gives a voice to the women that medicine has been overlooking for centuries. It’s only as medicine embraces the potential that women have different symptoms and presentation of diseases as well as different responses to therapy that the research and care will have a chance to catch up to that provided to men.
Pick up your own copy of Doing Harm at the FemInEM bookstore!