Petula Dvorak’s Aug. 21 column, “Women do the job, minus the training and recognition,” regarding women having served with Army Ranger units while being denied appropriate training, struck a chord with me.
In 1963, as a high school junior, I submitted an application to the U.S. Naval Academy. I still have the response, which stated that women were not admitted to the academy because the program presumably was too difficult for anyone with two X chromosomes to complete. So I entered and graduated from the University of Maryland, in three years, with a 4.0 grade point average.
I then applied to a half-dozen medical schools. At the University of Pennsylvania, the faculty member who interviewed me said that they would not admit me because, as a woman, I “would take a man’s place, and then quit medicine to get married and have babies.” I was asked in two other interviews if I planned on ever getting pregnant. Nevertheless, I was admitted to Georgetown University’s medical school, largely due to advocacy by an early feminist, Dr. Estelle Ramey, and graduated in 1971.
With my MD in hand, I went to a Navy recruiter and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve. Because the Navy was not admitting women to its regular service ranks, I was designated a WAVE during my first year. I received unequal pay compared with male colleagues because I was married. Fellow male physicians pointed out that their marital status had no bearing on their allowance. But, in fact, it increased those amounts. As a female physician, I lost track of the times when colleagues and patients mistook me for a nurse. There were no female on-call rooms or bathrooms with showers. Some (adult male) patients refused to be treated by a female. But I completed residency training and served as a pediatrician and then eventually as a psychiatrist.
In 1977, while on active duty, I delivered my first of two children. There was no maternity uniform available, so I wore civilian dress. I received four weeks of maternity leave, as I did in 1986 when my son was born, also by Caesarian section. Both postpartum leaves were extended by two weeks because of post-surgical complications.
I retired from active duty in 1997. I have continued to treat patients full time, long after my 1971 male medical school classmates have retired to fish or golf.
There are definitely more military opportunities open to women since the days when the Naval Academy refused admittance due to gender. I’m happy to see that. But Dvorak rightly called out those in the Defense Department who continue to deny women opportunities to use all their skills and to provide all the leadership of which they are capable, 50 years after I first ran into gender discrimination. The two female Rangers are breaking ground literally and symbolically, and I salute them. But in 2015, it is long past the time when women should have to continue proving their fitness for service.
I pray that my granddaughter will one day see the United States provide a better example to the rest of the world by offering all the opportunity, pay and recognition to women that have been so long overdue.