Sorry… But Are You Really a Doctor?

Sometimes I get the distinct impression that the general public believe that doctors graduate from medical school as middle aged men. This attitude presents itself repeatedly in social situations. Many times when meeting new people I have mentioned that I work at the local hospital or GP clinic, only to be met with the response “oh, are you a receptionist there?”  “Er, no, I’m a doctor there.” “Oh.”

… awkward!

As a junior hospital doctor, it was an almost daily occurrence that patients would mistake me for a nurse / student /  anything other than a doctor. Many female doctors would be familiar with these scenarios:

  • You enter a patient’s room and they are on the phone. They end their call by saying “I gotta go, the nurse is here to see me.”
  • You spend 45 minutes with a patient taking a history, performing an examination, taking bloods, explaining their diagnosis and management plan. Then they say “Ok, when do I get to see the doctor?”
  • Having to repeatedly deflect groping hands, flirty comments and admiring looks up and down from overly friendly male patients who care more about what you look like than what your job title is.

Unfortunately, introducing yourself as a doctor, wearing an ID badge that says “Doctor Such-and-Such”, draping a stethoscope around your neck and wearing a uniform that has “DOCTOR” embroidered on it does NOT prevent these assumptions from occurring. The overwhelming evidence of you being young and female apparently overrides all of those other more subtle clues as to your occupation.

Then there are  the patients who subtly check that you are qualified to treat them by asking something like “so… how long have you been a doctor for?”. I’m always secretly gratified by their surprise and sudden change of attitude when I tell them that I’ve been a doctor for 7 years and that I’ve done 12 years of training and study to become fully-qualified as a GP obstetrician.  Both myself and a friend of mine have, on separate occasions, been asked “Sorry… but are you really a doctor? A medical doctor?” when responding to in-flight calls for medical assistance. Some patients just come straight out and say “you look way too young to be a doctor.”

I don’t really mind patients thinking I look young. After all, I am still very early in my career and have many years ahead of me. In fact, I’m sure I’ll be disappointed when patients stop telling me I look young.

The thing that bothers me the most is when my age or gender affects how I’m perceived by co-workers and colleagues, people who should know better!  Anecdotally, female junior doctors seem to get a tougher time of it than their male counterparts. For instance, many of my peers (both male and female) have reported that female interns and residents seem to have to work harder to earn the respect of some nurses.  Personally, I have felt at times like I’ve had to prove myself more than my male peers. As an intern, I also had my entirely male surgical team make jokes about whether or not I was pregnant because on one occasion I got a little light headed in theatre during a 5-hour operation! The resident expected me to make him coffee in the morning and the consultant told me that I was a great intern but would never make a good surgeon due to my delicate constitution. Unbelievable!

I thought that this would improve with time as I became more senior, and generally it has. Every now and then though it does still crop up. During my caesarean lists, theatre staff would often look to my male colleague for instructions even when I was the primary surgeon and he was my assistant.

Recently, I was the only obstetrician in a small country town for a few days and was covering the roster on my own. I had booked a patient for a caesarean section for the Friday morning and had organised theatre staff, anaesthetics and a surgical assistant. Another (older male) GP obstetrician arrived that morning and – despite the fact that I was still the duty obstetric doctor – said “Well you’ll be assisting me, then”. I was quite affronted by his apparent assumption that either (a) I wasn’t qualified to do caesareans, or (b) that he somehow had more right to do it then me. I had to assert that: no, as the duty doctor, I would be doing the caesarean, but that he was most welcome to cancel his clinic patients so that he could assist me if he liked.

Luckily, the vast majority of interactions with colleagues and patients are mutually respectful and rewarding, and these relationships only get better with time. But, if we’ve only just met, please don’t make judgements about my skills or competence based on my age and/or gender. And patients, please realise that doctors come in all different shapes and sizes, not just middle aged men!

I would love to hear from you if you have been treated differently because of your demographics. Or have I got it all wrong? All opinions welcome!

***Edit – From a few of the comments below it seems that some people have misinterpreted my words as being disrespectful towards nurses. I’d like to just clarify that I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for my nursing and midwifery colleagues who do an amazing job and who have saved my butt more times than I can recall. I certainly don’t feel insulted to be called a nurse. In fact, when I was promoted to “honorary midwife” on my maternity unit I took it as a huge compliment. I refer you to this excellent blog post which articulates all the reasons why doctors and nurses are different, and why they should be recognised for those differences. 

The point I’m trying to make is that assumptions about your professional capability (in any field) should not be judged on looks, gender, age, or any other demographic characteristic, but rather on the way you do your job. I plan to keep on being the best damn doctor I can be and proving those misconceptions wrong and, I will defend to my last breath everyone else’s right to do the same. 

128 thoughts on “Sorry… But Are You Really a Doctor?

  1. Great comments. Ultimately it seems to be about two things

    (i) patients not being certain who they are seeing. Sadly there is an assumption amongst some patients that MALE = DOCTOR / FEMALE = NURSE

    Complete rubbish of course, but needs to be challenged. It is complicated further by some institutions making it harder to know who is who. The UK has gone down the insane route of calling all doctors ‘trainees’ and removing ‘dr’ from name badges, then replacing with terms like “ST2 trainee”. This makes it sound like the doctor with a five year degree and 5 yrs postgrad experience has in fact wandered in from school to do work experience!

    Further complicated by just about everyone being called a ‘consultant’ nowadays – “senior clinical podiatric consultant surgeon” – or just podiatrist?

    (ii) bullying

    This is a common theme from the comments. Often perpetrated along sexist or racist lines – but also endemic in the ‘hierarchy of medicine’

    I am a 400-something white bloke. A ‘senior’ GP with many years under my belt. I have gone back into the hospital system on two occasions – once to get obstetric qualifications and the second to pick up anaesthetic skills. Appropriately I re-entereed as a registrar (not at the ‘consultant/specialist’ post-Fellowship level I hold in my own field of rural medicine)

    On BOTH occasions I experienced bullying – worse int he operating theatre environment. Not just me, but another rural doctor who was learning anaesthetics. The perpetrators were older, senior doctors and theatre nurses. And the basis? Because of our grade, not because of ‘who we were’.

    Of course we challenged this and this was probably a rude shock to the bullies – but it alarms me still how the hierarchy of medicine allows this, and that such behaviours are tolerated. They are usually perpetrated because people are seen as ‘just the resident medical officer’ or ‘just a trainee registrar’. I imagine it is worse if you are junior, can be worse if female or perceived as ‘overseas’

    It sucks and must be challenged.

  2. Excellent.

    I am a 29-year-old woman and just finished my pre-med degree. When I tell people about my education so far, the conversation goes something like…

    Them: “So, you just graduated?”
    Me: “Yes, I just finished my pre-med degree!”
    Them: “Oh, so you want to be a nurse, then!”
    Me: “No, I want to go to medical school to become a doctor.”

    **Long, uncomfortable silence**…and they change the subject.

    This literally happens every single time. The only time it hasn’t happened was when I was talking to a female anaesthesiologist, and she responded that my wanting to go to med school was awesome and that the world needs more excellent female doctors.

    It’s like people have the brain path of: female + medical = nurse.

  3. While I hear this kind of thing from colleagues all the time, I think it’s important to look at it from a different perspective. There are stereotypes we can’t really avoid. It’s a normal part of life that’s probably not going any where any time soon… and as soon as it does, there will be some new stereotype that upsets us. It’s how you choose to reflect on them that makes you frustrated. So here the thoughts of a former patient, now doctor.

    When someone thinks I’m a nurse, I take it as a compliment. Doctors are often seen as those that don’t listen to patients complaints and are rushing to see patients and move on to the next one without taking the time to really get to know the patient. I don’t know how many doctors I had over the years that didn’t take my symptoms and complaints seriously. But a nurse is someone who is there for you to complain to, be honest with, and talk to about whatever is wrong. They are the ones that go and get the patient help when they need it. They are the patient advocates who have a heart and are at the patients side all day long in the hospital that alert the doctors of what’s going on. If, as a physician, you’re being confused with a nurse, I think you’re doing something right. You’re probably not being condescending and you’re probably listening to the patients’ concerns. It’s not always just about the fact that you’re female. Sometimes it’s because you’re a kind-hearted physician who has made the patient feel comfortable. That’s a good thing.

    I do believe that women are challenged more in fields across the board, and I don’t think this is solely in medicine. No one in my family in medicine is a physician and they’ve all had to deal with that. My mom was a successful breadwinner in our family and she taught me at a young age that because I was a woman I was going to have to work harder to be successful. But why not embrace that challenge? Why not say, bring it on? I can take on any challenge you can throw at me and still maintain my happiness. If you can do that, you will always be a success.

    Those are my two cents. I think we’re all lucky to have the knowledge, skill, and dedication to become physicians. And I think those of us who aren’t physicians but are involved in medical care (from the nurses to technicians, to secretaries) are equally as valuable. Each person plays such a valuable role and it couldn’t be done without everyone working on the same team. So, instead of taking these minor confusions personally, let’s look at things differently and come to the conclusion that we’re all valuable players on the same team, and we couldn’t make the system work without one another :o)

    • That’s a good perspective to see it…But as being a young medical resident myself, patients usually make their comments before I even have the chance to talk to them…so their comments aren’t related with the fact that I’m kind/listening/empathic…even tho I am!

  4. Ha, this makes me feel so normal! I have had a couple of make house officers recently, both much taller than me and with facial hair – needles to say when I do the registrar ward round the patients assume my house officer is in fact the consultant and I am his medical student.

    I must say that most patients who feel the need to check that I am indeed a qualified doctor are usually quickly mollified when it becomes apparent I do actually know a thing or two.

  5. Hi Penny,

    Great post! I don’t think I notice the comments re “too young to be a doctor” much anymore (or perhaps they are decreasing in frequency…). I’m not offended either if a family member wants to know how much experience I have – I would probably want to know too if I was in their shoes. I tend to make it into a joke.
    But I ALWAYS introduce myself as “Kathryn, one of the doctors” or “Kathryn, one of the senior emergency doctors” (when supervising a resident).

    I did once meet a consultant who shook hands with the male doctors standing on either side of me and completely ignored me. My boss had to then inform him that I too was one of the new registrars. I was so surprised – that had never happened before! I have on occasion noticed patients deferring to male residents instead of the female consultant. But once they are redirected to “the boss” they actually often seem a bit embarrassed to have made the error.

    We’ll get there!

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  7. As a female pastor, I have dealt with this same issue in my own field, both as relates to gender and as relates to age. The double whammy of gender+youth can seriously undermine perceived authority/respectability. I am frequently mistaken for an office worker at my church, and have even been introduced at times as the “minister’s wife” (my husband is also a minister and we work together).

  8. This is not unique to the medical field. As a mid-career professional who looks younger than she is, I can definitely relate. While you want to look younger outside of the work realm, while working you need to look older (and preferably be male) to fully be taken seriously. You have to work triple hard to “prove yourself” in the beginning, in order to overcome the initial stereotypes; but once that’s done, I generally find that people can overcome those incorrect first impressions and eventually treat and respect you the same as an older male professional, if not more so!

  9. The only time I look down on a young female physician is when she wears heels. It’s so impractical I can’t help but think she is trying to look good to compensate for sub-standard skills. Of course, I think the same thing about male physicians who wear super shiny shoes; like a patient isn’t going to puke on those?! Loved this article on huff post!

  10. While I am not a doctor, I am in a male-dominated profession and I have experienced similar bias. I am a police officer. I am not a stereotype either – I am not a rough-looking female with a chip on her shoulder trying to prove herself. It takes a lot to upset me and I am generally very patient with the public. I have also trained new police officers. They have all been male. And what is funny about the whole thing is that whenever my trainees and I would interact with the public, people would generally not acknowledge me until they asked my trainee a question he couldn’t answer and then it would come to light that I am the senior officer. I noticed this happening very frequently with females. I think we as women are conditioned to assume that the one who has all the knowledge and the “take charge” attitude is the male. Maybe one day women will see other women as just as capable as men.

  11. This really speaks to me – but I’m a lawyer! I encounter the very same attitude(s) day in, day out. Thank you for making me not feel alone and for drawing attention to the issue. :-)

  12. I CAN RELATE! Wow! I could’ve totally written this! Patients and staff alike tell me I look like a teenager, yet I teach residents and students. Fortunately, my competence soon increases others’ respect for me. There are some days though that this issue is still bothersome to me. Thanks for sharing!

  13. This also works the other direction. “Your only an RN?” “Your so good you should go on and become a doctor”. As if because I am a man the choice I made to be here taking care of you for 12 hours. I must say that I have a great working relationship with most of my docs, especially the middle aged and younger ones and I have no problem respecting someone based on the quality of work instead of gender. Perhaps that is because I am a male nurse, or perhaps because early in my career I stood outside a patient’s room listening as 2 male residents doing an assessment. When they finished one told the patient “If you need anything just hit the call button and let your nurse know”. He said this as he handed the patient the control for his PCA pump.

    • I saw that exact scenario recently. A great male nurse was told by a patient that he was so smart he should be a doctor. Super insulting comment which implies that nurses aren’t smart, or that we don’t need talented people in nursing! Had to give her a telling off for that one.

  14. I’m a law student interning at Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The older female legal assistants are definitely not as willing to help me as much as the male interns. One time I was looking for a file and a legal assistant told me if wasn’t her problem to help me find it. Judges will also make comments about pants suits verses skirt suits. I highly doubt they would ever make comments about the male intern’s clothing.

  15. Well written! I’m a 32 years old (although people often guess I’m in my mid 20s), single, attractive, blond periodontal surgeon (it’s similar to an oral surgeon but I specialize in more cosmetic and microscopic surgery). I own my own practice which I started from scratch over a year ago. I lecture for a few study clubs, am a speaker for two different corporations, am published in a medical journal, active on several different committees and task forces for my professional organizations,…you get the picture. And yet even though my colleagues are well aware of my accomplishments, they still seems shocked that I could do these things. They often feel the need to give me advice and tell me how proud they are for me. I’m often told by colleagues, friends, family, and patients, “good for you!” I take it all with a grain of salt and since I’ve been hearing that for over a decade now, I’m kinda used to it. And I agree, I too will be somewhat disappointed when I stop getting asked how old I am or how long I’ve been a doctor. haha. I’ve even had some patients try to set me up with their sons because “I’m such a catch”. It’s funny how patients feel that’s it’s ok to ask me about my personal life! Now add being a boss and managing employees on top of all that! But, it is what it is. It’s just funny that somehow because I’m attractive and look young, I’m not smart enough to be so accomplished. Like, what the heck does THAT have to do with anything! And no, I did not sleep with my O-Chem or molecular biology professors to get straights A’s!

  16. Terrific post, and you are spot on! I’m a female Board Certified Family Practice Physician licensed in the US and in Canada, and I’ve been treated exactly the same way throughout my training and as an Attending. It’s apparently worldwide. I’ve even had to make a copy of my online license profiles and show it to specialists because they insist I am a nurse practitioner not a doctor.

  17. Interesting article. I have had been a physician for many years both in South Africa and now in the USA and I have had very LITTLE problem with being a woman in medicine. I am so sorry that you have had so many experiences where there has been confusion.

    The only thing that I did find was that the female nurses would offer to help the male doctors but rarely to help the female doctors. It was as if they just assumed that since you are a woman you could do it yourself. Since there are more and more male nurses now I do not have this too much any more.

    Good luck in your career.
    Mary

  18. I am an orthopedic surgeon. If I had a nickel for every time I was questioned about being old enough or man enough to do the job, I’d be rich. I had a patient earlier this week say to me “I didn’t know you were a surgeon” as I stood there in the OR with him about to start his case. That was after more than 6 monhs treating him my office- hilarious!

  19. This is just Fantastic, and I can 100% relate! I’d love to repost Your blog on my blog: http://www.dailydoseMD.com Please let me know! (email me!) Thanks for sharing.

    I love the comment above about the judgement on the wardrobe and SHOES! I love heels, and will never stop wearing them at work if it’s what makes me comfortable. I get my job done right?

  20. Great article! I’m 54 years old and a faculty physician, and still get these same comments. I work largely with geriatric patients now, so I usually attribute their comments to generational bias (they saw few female docs in the 20′s/30′s 40′s/50′s), and just smile and go on. Over the years I’ve heard it all- “Are you going to med school just so you can marry a doctor?” “You know you’ll be taking up some spot that a man could have had” “What if you decide to get married?” “So you’re not planning on having a family?” “Well, being a wife and a mother was good enough for me and I don’t see why it’s not good enough for you.”
    It does get better over time, I guess as women continue to saturate med schools and residencies and penetrate even the more male-dominated specialties and faculty positions. My biggest pet peeve- it sounds really stupid but it just infuriates me- Is getting mail addressed “Dr. and Mrs.” from people who KNOW that we are both M.D.’s. Write Mr. and Mrs., write just our first names, write Drs., I just don’t care, but just be fair. That really sums it up for me- I never wanted special treatment for being a woman, just equal treatment.

    • I have the same letterhead experience with my husband. What infuriates him, though, is that people (patients) call me “Sarah” and would never call him “Gabe.” He keeps asking me to have them “at least call you Dr Sarah!”

  21. Same with the veterinary field. One appointment my first week out of school, a middle aged male client said to me and my male technician as we walked in the room: “What is this? Bring your daughter and have her wear your white coat day?” To which I clearly stated “No, I’m the doctor, and I do have a smart a$$ fee for people like you.” We quickly became friends :) But seriously, I get that reaction from many clients. You look too young to be a vet. How long have you been practicing? I’ve had dogs longer than you’ve been alive, why should I trust you. I’ve heard it all. But you know what….I love being told I look young for my age. I love having people say they’ve had dogs a long time – but I tell them my job is to have their dogs live longer than before. I love having them start with an initial reaction, and then I totally blow it away.

  22. I am 33 and an Anesthesiologist. I get the “you’re too young” bit all the time. I get called a nurse very frequently despite introducing myself as “Doctor” and wearing a big orange badge that says the same. I also get asked for urinals. A lot. I have asked my male colleagues if this happens to them and they have told me it happens only very very rarely. One male patient who had a cast on one arm wanted me to actually “help” him use the urinal. I told him to use his other hand and walked out.

    • I have been an anaesthetic nurse for over 10 years and was appalled with the way you claimed to have treated your male patient’s request for assistance. Because whilst, yes, you are a doctor, you are part of the healthcare team and are supposed to be caring for your patients. It wasn’t funny if that’s what you were aiming for. At the very least you could have told him that you would find a nurse to assist him.
      I have a couple of problems with your post. Firstly, using a urinal in a bed with two hands can be quite challenging, let alone with one hand. Secondly, in my experience, generally male patients just feel more comfortable asking female staff members for help, you quite clearly feel you are so fantastic that he was OBVIOUSLY hitting on you.
      With comments like this you aren’t doing any favours for the general public’s opinion that doctors have little to no bedside manner.
      I think that you need to grow up, learn to have some compassion and work on your bedside manner.
      And I certainly wouldn’t be broadcasting that kind of behaviour on a public forum.

  23. This is an all too common experience for women in traditionally male-dominated fields. Ironically, in the US we have had recent years with more than 50% of med school students being female. Many sub-specialities here are in the 60-80% range for being practiced by female physicians. For example. pediatrics – but no one asks the male pediatrician, “are you ‘really’ the doctor?”
    There was a recent post by a resident blogger on the site kevinmd.com “Thanks for the Compliment, but I’m not a Nurse” http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/06/compliment-nurse.html
    that covered similar concerns. The author was largely lambasted for her position and accused of being conceited, disrespecting nurses, and worse.
    People fail to understand that the problem is NOT being called a nurse. The problem is that female physicians AREN’T recognized as physicians – and that’s a big difference.
    I’ve blogged about my frustrations with this same situation as well
    http://oneflewover.blogspot.com/2011/12/i-worked-damn-hard-to-be-called-doctor.html

    I think overall when we know that in the not too distant future there are going to be more female than male physicians, and more physicians in general under age 60 than over, we really need to examine how this is going to affect the public’s and patients’ views on who they have caring for them.

    Thanks for adding to the voices talking about this topic!

  24. I am a man and have had many of the same experiences. I have been in practice 2 years post training. I don’t get mistaken for a nurse, and i do believe that mistake is much more due to traditional gender roles inedicine. But, i get comments in one or two veins (all the time):

    1) how old are you/you look like a baby/too young to be a doctor.
    2) how long have you been practicing?

    Based on the apologetic tones used when asking, i don’t take it as a compliment. The patients seem to realize that this is a not so subtle dig, and inference that i do not know as much as an older doctor.

    I used to laugh it off, but now simply state my age (35) and move on.

    The worst part of this ageism is that i can tell that, occasionally, the patient stops paying attention to me after i state my age, and i know they will not be coming back to my clinic.

  25. This situation isn’t just anecdotal; there are plenty of studies to back up the gender difference in the medical field as it applies to promotions, positions of leadership, tenure, salary, and raises among other means of payment, praise, and/or acknowledgement. The AMA and the AAFP among other professional medical associations in the US are now beginning to focus on this inequality as a standard that needs to change, both in lobbying for equal salary regardless of gender (sexual identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc) — equal pay for equal work– as well as in finding opportunities to educate female physicians on how to negotiate their contracts and to expect equal payment (whether from insurers or employers or advancement from academic institutions).

  26. Great article! I don’t even always get the benefit of being called a nurse…a lot of times patients will think I’m the nursing tech. Funny because I actually WAS a nurse for 7 years before becoming a doctor and I was mistaken for the tech then too! But now I’m a young, Black, Urology resident and it seems too much for most patients to comprehend. I’ve stopped correcting them and just go about my business.

  27. I am an Afro-Hispanic Psychologist working at a outpatient psychiatric clinic in Philadelphia, PA and I always get shocked looks and “you’re Dr. Kendall?” when patients first meet me too. It’s truly a shame that in 2013 people make so many judgements about women professionals.

  28. I am a 56 yr old DDS, what I can’t believe is how little has changed in 30 years, I had a lot of comments like the ones experienced by the author in my 20s and 30s. It seemed to me that other women were the worst offenders. I remember once when I happened to be close to the front desk when a (female) patient of an associate dentist (I was an owner) approached me and without asking started handing me paperwork and things to copy. I was floored. She didn’t really look at me, just assumed I had menial responsibilities because of my gender. I guess I don’t see it as much anymore because patients have been told about me as a she before they see me. The only thing I notice now is that male colleagues, younger ones that I am supposed to be helping learn our systems, don’t seem to be as willing to listen to me as a guy. But it doesn’t really bother me, you have to roll with it and laugh that people are so confined to their little way of seeing the world!

  29. When I tell people I work at the hospital and they assume I’m a nurse, I just let them continue to assume it so I don’t have to deal with ridiculous medical questions.

  30. Excellent. True, and sad. I am in the same boat. Yes, we can handle it, but it just gets tiring hearing patients/colleagues saying stuff like this all the time. Not to mention doing all this PLUS raising a family at home! And sacrificing time with our family to still be treated like this! Great article!

  31. Yes, this happens to me all the time! I am always called nurse. I am often asked how long I have been a doctor for. And I have been sexually harassed by male patients or patient’s family members. Just the other day, one told me that I must have gotten pregnant to “keep my man with me.” When his wife suggested that I was a doctor and that he “shouldn’t talk to me like that,” he just laughed at the idea!
    http://www.mommycallblog.com

  32. I could not agree more. I have experienced all of these things multiple times during my career. I’m so glad somebody finally wrote about this!

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  34. I agree, as someone that is in the medical field and also a female, it just becomes plain aggravating to be called a nurse. Not because the profession is bad, but the misinformed assumptions that go with the title “nurse”. (i.e. poorly educated, only have skills to sponge bathe you, female). No one really understands that a nurse actually has 4 years of undergraduate education and training and experience on top of it. Funny story, an older male patient grabbed my hand tightly and goes (rather in a perverted/creepy manner) “Nurse, are you married?”…I pulled my hand out of his grip, and respond; “I’m a doctor, and please release your grip – I have other patients to see.” Ignorance is a disease and unfortunately it is becoming more prevalent in society.

  35. umm….when did GP obstetricians start doing C-section procedures!??!
    What country are you doing this in because it from my understanding it certainly doesn’t occur in Australia.

    • Au contraire!! Many GP obstetricians in Australia also do caesarean sections after gaining the additional qualification of the advanced DRANZCOG (See here for more information). I’m credentialled to do caesarean sections in all of rural Western Australia, Bentley Hospital in the Perth metropolitan area and Country Health South Australia (and that’s just the places that I’ve worked so far). I’ve done around 200 caesarean sections in the last 3 years, the most recent one was yesterday afternoon. It’s an awesome part of my job and I’m very pleased that I can combine the surgical aspect of obstetrics with community general practice.

      Where in Australia are you working that you don’t have c/s credentialled GP obs?

  36. Great article! Just for interest, medical doctors are not the only ones that go through this. I qualified as a veterinarian when I was 23 and I looked very young. Even after working for 4 years, people still asked if I was the vet’s daughter doing some work experience (she was in high school at the time). I took this as a compliment to my youthfulness and whenever they asked to see the vet, would smile politely and astound them by saying that I was the vet. But there will always be people who don’t trust you and whenever they would get a second opinion from a colleague that was the same diagnosis/treatment that I made, I would compliment myself for a job well done. Be aware of stereotypes in all professions, not only medical, you might even be making incorrect assumptions about the person who served you your coffee this morning.

  37. Don’t feel bad ladies! Natascha is right.. This happens in many professions, ask some young female lawyers how their clients treat them versus their male counterparts… Look at the corporate world- as a young female you will have to try much harder than your male colleagues to rise up the ranks, and if you make to the `dizzy’ heights of executive you will often be overlooked or ignored as your mainly male colleagues will listen to their male team mates before you. There is an abundant amount of research out there which shows men simply do not `hear’ women, and young females in any profession have to work twice as hard as males to get the same level of respect or recognition. Its certainly not reserved for the medical profession.

  38. Hi. I’m a female GP in semi-rural BC, Canada. Having graduated medical school at 25, and being fully qualified and a mother at age 28, and being only 5’2″, and the only female GP in town, I am no stranger to the “you look like you just graduated high school” comment and others.

    I agree with some of the comments that focus on being in an academic center, and certainly there was quite a bit of old-boys-clubs and general nepotism, particularly in the larger teaching centers, and certain specialties. I do, however, recall fondly a number of older, male surgeons who were genuinely interested in my learning, and just kind, genuine people. One of my worst experiences as a resident, was my own preceptor, a young GP herself, who was quite punitive in her relationship with me, and made parallels between her teaching style with me, and her parenting of her 8 year old daughter. To this day, I regret not calling her on it, but being a resident is not a powerful position. I chalk it up to a learning experience.

    When I started working independently, I just got tired of hearing how young I looked, I remember thinking I should bring in my high school photo, so they could see just how young I’d looked way back when I had graduated high school. As a young GP, I cut my hair short and let my premature gray hair show. Now, 10 years later, I dye my hair, and have grown it out again, and might sometimes wear a high-ponytail to work (but never heels, ow). I still get those comments, at 37, but now they’re just compliments. “You look too young to be a doctor!”, they say. “Thank you” I say, or “But I am.” if I’m tired. Sometimes I say to an older person, “I’m 37, where were you in your career at 37?” I always deal with these comments with respect and humour, and have easily been able to win trust. I think sometimes people are just genuinely interested in my story.The great thing about being in a small town, and sometimes a burden, when I’m just trying to pick up some groceries, is that people know me now. Everywhere I go. I’ve earned their trust and respect, and they know me for a young, competent, caring doctor, who will discuss their test results in the vegetable aisle, or renew their prescription as I’m walking past the pharmacy on my way to my daughter’s dance class.

    When I do an ER shift, there is an older, male nurse, so when he and I are on, we really get the patients that don’t know us all muddled, but I just laugh it off. I love the nurses I get to work with and am honored when they tell me I am a “good nurse-in-training”, because I can help out when they are busy. We have a good relationship with mutual respect.

    So, while I can relate to the post above, I am lucky to have found a place where people (patients and colleagues, alike) have taken the time to get to know me, and put aside their first judgements. I think if the owner of the original post, and others who have commented here will stick it out, they will have similar experiences. I would imagine that young, professional women in other industries like law, journalism, forestry, industry and business would have a tougher time. I am also fortunate that in this part of the world, doctors are not paid differently based on how old they are, or on gender, as is the case in so many other fields. I guess one day, I’ll stop hearing how young I look, and I’ll really miss it then!

  39. One’s perception of one’s self is in the thinking. If you think you are being perceived as NOT being a doctor by patients then you act accordingly. I can recognise a natural and normal female doctor by her professional approach and attitude. A very quick introduction on approaching a patient or colleague does wonders for both guys and girls, and NOT getting too “precious” or sensitive, as it indicates lack of confidence, and lack of ability to communicate properly. It has become a trend to constantly bring up gender issues by female doctors when none really existed, but simply they wanted to be thought of as more important, or a sense of paranoia has come in to their thinking. I spent a lot of my residency 50 years ago supporting my female colleagues when their work was overloaded, or their PMT was getting the better of them causing tears and irritability —-and we guys couldn’t cry at exams etc., could we? Guys and girls are different —NOT the same. If you want to be seen as professional, then act it in a mature way without introducing gender issues!

    • Very well said. If they are hopefully wearing a badge, dressing appropriately by donning their white coat and properly introducing themselves; why in the world would they be mistaken for a nurse or another profession that seems so beneath them? Just remember, we all get sick , and a nurse is there for 12 hrs.

  40. Pingback: Nurses, Orderlies, Blogs and Bonds | Nomadic GP

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  42. I completely agree!
    As a female final year medical student I have been called out to while on ward rounds by a male patient to empty his urine bottle, and have been warned by many senior male doctors that I will have to work harder to get onside with the nurses as I am a female. I have always been treated equally by he majority of doctors though, so to me the belief of females being unlikely or incompetent doctors lies in the wider community. Although in saying that, I do feel like wanting to have children and not focus 100% on career is looked upon as weak by both male and female doctors.

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