Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 9: The Doctor

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927 — part 9: The Doctor

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 05, 2011

“What Shall I Do?”: Paid Employment for Mormon Girls, 1927

Agnes Lovendahl Stewart

The introduction to this series is posted here.

[IX.] – The Doctor

If you like to do difficult things that few others are able to do, you might choose to be a doctor.

It takes generous quantities of grit, and courage, and perseverance, and determination and stick-to-it-iveness for a man to become a doctor. And it takes all those fine qualities of character in double measure for a woman to become a doctor.

In the first place, you must make up your mind to sacrifice quite a number of the best years of your young life getting started. Before you can obtain a license to practice you must have received an M.D. degree at a recognized medical college, and have served at least one year in a hospital as interne.

To get the degree you will need at least four years in a good college for your B.S. degree and two years of post-graduate work for the M.D. Seven years of preparation before you can even make a beginning! Probably you will want to specialize in some particular line, perhaps become a baby specialist, and that will mean at least a year or two longer! It will take a great deal of money, for during several of those years you will have to live away from home. There are no schools in Utah from which you can obtain an M.D.

After you have successfully completed all of this work, you must pass the state examination for doctors before you will be permitted to practice in Utah. Other states have similar regulations.

The more worthwhile something is, the harder it is to obtain – isn’t that true?

To become a doctor, one must not only spend a great deal of time and money – one must also put in sleepless nights boring into ponderous books full of words I could never begin to understand. There is such a great, great deal to learn, before one dares attempt to grapple with disease and death. It is a very important mission!

But even after all the courses of study have been completed and the period of internship in the hospital served, and the necessary examinations passed, your troubles will not be over. In fact, you may think them just beginning.

You will be like a storekeeper who has a beautiful brand new shop, with plenty of stocks, and no customers. But the storekeeper can advertise for his customers, and medical ethics will not allow you to advertise for patients. If you did advertise, folks would think you must be a quack.

You must have plenty of confidence in yourself in order to inspire confidence in others. If possible it will be much better for you to have an office with older doctors who have already established a practice. It helps your own prestige while you go through the difficult beginning years.

Perhaps you have heard jokes about the young doctors just out of college driving round and round through the streets in their shiny new roadsters, hoping that people will think they are hurrying away to the bedside of a suffering patient. Those jokes have more than a little truth in them.

Doctors tell me that after the seven years or more of preparation are completed, it usually takes about seven more years for a doctor to build up a dependable, profitable practice. It is like Jacob who worked seven years for Rachel and got Leah, and then worked seven years more for Rachel because he loved her so. One must indeed love one’s profession to labor so long for success in it.

I said in the beginning that if the profession of medicine is difficult for a man, it is doubly so for a woman. I will explain why.

As you think of it yourself, you will realize that very few men would go to a woman physician. That is just human nature – it is the psychology of the thing, and there is no use denying its existence. And you will find that many women, in case of a serious illness, would not go to a woman doctor. They would not have confidence in her. That is human nature also. No matter how capable she might be, there would be a certain feeling of fear in case of operations or other serious illness.

The reason for this, I believe, is the fact that as yet only a few women, comparatively, have entered the profession of medicine. It is a new field for women, and it always takes the world quite a long period of time to get used to new ideas. As more and more women become successful in this line of work, people’s confidence in them will increase in proportion.

So if you become a doctor, you are being a true pioneer, and you are blazing the way so that more women may enter this profession with less difficulty. The first woman doctor of Chicago found it necessary to cut her hair short and wear trousers and suits like a man, in order to be successful!

Of course the great field for the woman physician at present is in the care of babies. It is her natural interest, and her love of little tots qualifies her better than any man can ever be qualified to study them and learn their needs.

And what a glorious work! To find little babies starving for proper nourishment, and give them the food they need! To take thin little weaklings and make them strong and healthy! To teach mothers in clinics how to care for their babies’ health! To find the pain that a tiny infant cannot tell you about, and cure it!

It is a work of greatness, and of inestimable benefit to humanity. It is a mission one could be very proud of, – a mission worthy of the effort which must be expended.



  1. Hallelujah!!! I wish the girls today would be told to consider becoming doctors. Instead, I hear so many stories of young women being told they are denying their divine potential and will never be married if they pursue such a career.

    Comment by kew — April 5, 2011 @ 8:52 am

  2. I was surprised at her description of medical education. The current pattern of two years of science lectures followed by two years of clinical training had been endorsed by the American Medical Association nearly two decades before this article was published–so I’m not sure where Ms. Stewart got her “two years of post-graduate work” for the M.D.

    And, it’s interesting that Ms. Stewart doesn’t mention at all that the education and training and difficult early years of practice would typically come during a woman’s prime childbearing years. Did she assume that only unmarried or childless women would pursue this career? Or did she just assume that they could work that out on their own?

    Comment by Mark B. — April 5, 2011 @ 9:14 am

  3. Is Stewart always so liberal with the exclamation points? Wow!

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 5, 2011 @ 9:42 am

  4. It does say

    you must make up your mind to sacrifice quite a number of the best years of your young life getting started.

    If I recall correctly, many of the other employment opportunities also did not discuss marriage and family.

    Comment by kew — April 5, 2011 @ 9:59 am

  5. Medical ethics will not allow you to advertise for patients…

    Too bad this doesn’t apply to today’s pharmaceutical companies :-)

    Interesting that in this era being a nurse was considered such a natural fit for the “nurturing nature” of women, but not being a doctor. This article seemed to focus on the specialties with emphasis on nuturing, motherhood, and children (OB/GYN, maternity, pediatrics, etc.).

    Comment by Clark — April 5, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  6. As you think of it yourself, you will realize that very few men would go to a woman physician. That is just human nature – it is the psychology of the thing, and there is no use denying its existence.

    When I was a missionary, my companion and I got to know three sisters, middle-aged refugees from Afghanistan. They were all medical doctors and explained that in Afghanistan, women doctors treated women, and male doctors treated men. While there must be concerns with access to care and specialists and problems at hospitals under such a model, I recall being impressed at the idea that it would drive up the number of women in medical care — I don’t know if I had ever to that point (early 1990s) personally met a female doctor.

    And you will find that many women, in case of a serious illness, would not go to a woman doctor. They would not have confidence in her. That is human nature also.

    Since my mission, when presented with a choice, my first reaction was to see a woman for primary care and OB/GYN but over time my experience has been that on average they tend to be more emotional and less adept at diagnosis and handling uncommon conditions. (And don’t get me started on my experience with midwives! Yikes! Shudder!)

    I have not found the same to be true for pediatrics or cardiology or anesthesiology. There seems to be less of a gender divide in the quality of care. Perhaps those specialties attract a different sort of person.

    And a final comment (although I could keep going on and on about the gender divide in medicine), our regional children’s hospital has recently hired a woman to join their cardiology surgery team. I wonder what her experience has been so far. There is the question of age and experience, of course, but I wonder how many parents think twice about having a woman do surgery on their child’s heart.

    Comment by Researcher — April 5, 2011 @ 11:06 am

  7. I could tell several stories about women doctors, some of them possibly true. But why bother with that when I could share this wonderful encounter between a male patient and a woman doctor, courtesy of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. (It’s track 11–but there are some other gems in the other tracks too.)

    Comment by Mark B. — April 5, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  8. You know, most of the primary care doctors i (male) have gone to in my adulthood have been female.

    Maybe it’s just all the exclamation points, but i felt like Ms Stewart presented this one somewhat more positively than she did several of the others.

    Comment by David B — April 6, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  9. My only thought as an RN (and now nearly an NP) is that it is indeed quite gratifying to find the source of pain in a baby and fix it. I would imagine that male health care providers are just as good at that, but as a woman it perhaps appeals to my gender in a different sort of way.

    Comment by Ariel — April 6, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

  10. My, but the culture of many areas has grown backward in the last 80 years. I spoke to a BYU student at party last year who was applying to medical school. Essentially, 90% of the people she knew were trying to discourage her from going for her MD. Like #1 mentioned, everyone was certain that if she went to med school she’d never marry. True, she had no prospects for marriage at the time, but she was supposed to just sit around and wait for one. Even should she marry, they also told her med school would be a waste of time because it’s completely incompatible with motherhood. (What could be more incompatible with motherhood than the ability to diagnose and treat disease coupled with a chance of working short, flexible hours for high pay)

    She seemed very bright and was definitely passionate about healthcare–I hope she ignored the naysayers and went for it.

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — April 7, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

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