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Does gender bias impede doctors' communication with women? Whatever the situation in individual cases, the committee on Women's Health Issues of the Ontario Medical Association finds it still widely perceived that physicians do not take women's concerns seriously and has published brief guidelines to help speakers communicate health education messages effectively to women. Communicating Without Bias urges all physicians, both male and female, to be aware of gender-specific stereotypes and sensitive to how they can impair communication.

The guidelines, published in the Ontario Medical Review (September 1989), contain straightforward, commonsensical reminders that many women no longer define themselves in the traditional roles of mother, sexual partner, or housekeeper, but expect to be recognized as capable of pursuing any career, and of changing roles at different stages in their lives. Speakers should recognize that their own attitudes may not reflect those of their audience, and those who adopt positive attitudes toward nontraditional careers for women will communicate their health messages effectively.

Among the most basic of considerations for speakers is the need to take their audiences seriously and to interact with them respectfully. As the guidelines note, audiences are there because they want to be and want to learn from a speaker. Their desire to learn and to control their own bodies and health merit respect. Members of an audience may be widely read and familiar with the topic and their questions should be taken seriously, even if based on misinformation. Speakers' credibility is best maintained by handling even confrontational questions respectfully and providing accurate, appropriate answers.

The Committee also offers specific suggestions for avoiding communication gaffes: don't use patronizing terms like "girls" or "ladies"; use only appropriate graphics-no sexist photos; and avoid jokes referring to reproduction, sexual violence, women's physical characteristics; treat women and women's medical conditions seriously; be direct and factual and acknowledge controversy when it exists; and don't use your wife, mother, or other female relative as an example.
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Title Annotation:doctors and gender bias
Author:Crigger, Bette-Jane
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:May 1, 1990
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