Dodging those Queen or King Bees – a physician coach’s recommendation

While the Queen Bee Syndrome is usually used to describe a woman in power who limits opportunities for other women (the book by that name was the foundation for the movie, Mean Girls), Bernice Sandler, considered to be the “Godmother of Title IX,” widens the term’s range to include men as well. Women do not hold the patent on being mean, that’s for sure. Whether it’s a senior colleague’s decision to sequester the better paying patients for himself, a department chair’s formulation of a reimbursement formula that favors the procedures that she does, or a committee chair’s preferential treatment of his friends, most of us have been stung by a Queen (or King) bee at one time or another.

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When asked for her advice regarding how to counteract the damaging and hurtful effects of the Queen, Bernice’s recommendation was surprising. The woman who wasn’t afraid to wage such a difficult and treacherous fight suggested that we step around the bee. While there are many communication strategies to deal with difficult situations, sometimes the power differential leaves us without enough leverage to even begin a conversation. So Bernice advised that we simply enlarge our network. Find others who might be able to help us achieve our goals. Ask extensively to learn the rules of engagement in whatever world we are operating in. Develop relationships with people who can mentor us.

This advice reminded me of the wisdom of an old friend. When one of the girls at our son’s school was singled out and excluded from the larger group of girls in the grade, my friend suggested that she find a new group of friends. The girl, who rode horses, began to spend more time at the barn and found a new group of girls that accepted and liked her, as they had so much in common. It didn’t change her situation at school, but it removed most of the hurt. In time, the Queen moved on to another victim, as the first girl no longer seemed to be suffering.

When we allow ourselves to waste time and energy being hurt, angry, or resentful that the bee won’t give us her blessing, we give our power away. But when we reach out to others and ask their assistance, we frequently develop new and healthier relationships. We build a network of people who believe in us and will help us develop our skills and improve our game. We may even stumble upon a path that suits us better than the one we first imagined.

So if a Queen or King bee gets in your way, look beyond your immediate hive – better opportunities may be waiting for you there.

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About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
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