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Gender Bias in the Health Care System

Although there have been countless scientific advancements over the years, many women voice concerns that their health is not taken seriously. This systematic problem has led to misdiagnosis, late treatment, and their issues being completely ignored.

In a 2019 study done by TODAY, 26% of women diagnosed with chronic pain report that they believe their symptoms have been ignored. Additionally, 49% of women with chronic health conditions aged 18 to 34 have stated they felt like they needed to prove their symptoms.

With this in mind, I asked the women of San Jose State University about their experiences on any health disparities they may have faced while attempting to receive health care. Please keep in mind that the identity of all who shared their story with me will remain anonymous. 

One of the students who shared her story with me is a woman of color, and her story begins when she was only six years old: “I’ve been living with type 1 diabetes since the age of six, and I currently manage with insulin and close-loop algorithm pumping… To tell you the number of times providers have discounted my patient concerns is ridiculous.” 

This student goes on to share that her identity as a woman of color added extra battle in her treatment process. She was originally misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes. On her file, some of the contributing “reasons” for her misdiagnosis were her weight and her racial/ethnic background. It wasn’t until she reached extreme conditions that her complications were diagnosed properly as type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetics are unable to produce enough insulin in the body, while type 2 diabetics do produce insulin, but their bodies cannot use it properly. Type 1 diabetics require insulin injections. Type 2, on the other hand, may not always require it and can be regulated with a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. 

This experience has made this student empathize with fellow chronic illness sufferers, especially those from minority communities. She ends her story with, “I have had these unpleasant experiences with several providers, both male and female.”

This gender gap in our health system has wide-reaching implications. For example, women with chronic pain wait a longer time than men to receive treatment and are more likely to be misdiagnosed. As reported by a 2016 article by The Independent, women wait 65 minutes to be treated for abdominal pain, while men wait around 49 minutes. 

The fight for women doesn’t stop there since reproductive health care doesn’t offer the best treatment either. According to other San Jose State students, the majority of their struggles revolved around their reproductive organs. Two students share their conditions with excessive menstrual bleeding. One student states she continues to have severe pain after many years, while the other went through a near life-threatening experience to get the treatment she needed. 

Another student at San Jose State shares her experience with a suspected Urinary Tract Infections (UTI). “I let the male practitioner who saw me know that I was on new birth control, a ring that gets inserted into the vaginal canal, and I felt my body rejecting it.” His response? “Well, you should just stop having so much sex!” Not only were her claims ignored, but her doctor also made her feel ashamed of herself. A common experience in which doctors shame their patients for their personal life choices shouldn’t be happening in the first place. She finishes off her story with the words, “I wasn’t being taken seriously, and it brought up insecurity about my sexuality and the choices I made as a newly sexually active woman.”

It’s clear to tell that the medical profession must direct more consideration to women’s health. Although this article contains only a few stories of the experience women have had with the bias in health care, there are plenty of other women who go through this every single day. The more awareness women have about the potential bias against them in the medical system, the likelier they are to push for proper diagnostic testing and search for a second opinion. 

If you would like to voice your opinion or experience, tag us on Instagram, @HerCampusSJSU.

Sophomore & political science major at San Jose State University
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