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. 

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

  1. Thanks for the great post Penny – I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of female docs and medical students! I can’t remember the number of times I have been assumed to have been a nurse, and further to this, asked by a patient to get them a cup of tea (in which case the patient is making the extra assumption that it is the nurse’s job to get them a cup of tea…maybe the case sometimes, but not always)!

    I also agree with you that it is nice in some ways to be considered “too young” to be a doctor, but on the other hand there is that side of us that wonders why we should have to explain all those years of training to patients in order to try and earn their respect before they will believe a word we say; I have seen great respect given to a first year post-graduate medical student, most likely simply because he was male and middle-aged! Ultimately, to assume makes an “ass out of ‘u’ and me…”

  2. I love this post – agree on all counts.
    Rounding with an older post-grad male intern was always the best – the patients would look right past me to him assuming he was the senior doctor.
    At the end of the day, I think it’s the questioner who needs to recalibrate their stereotypical assumption of what a doctor looks like.
    However my absolute favourite moment was a delightful elderly lady who said “thank you so much for your time professor” as she walked out of the clinic room. – Made my day! 🙂

  3. Ha, ha! Love this post.

    I hate to break this to you….but even in middle-age you still get asked “how long have you been a doctor?” I think you have to have grey hair to conform to many patient’s acceptable doctor image.

    I also still get mistaken for a nurse. Even when the patient has booked an appointment to see me, walked into an office with my name on the door, and sat through a 15min consultation. The times this bothers me the most is when it’s a mother who says to her child “sit still for the nurse” etc. It just reinforces the same old stereotypes to a new generation.

    I even had a friends’ brother recently introduce me to people as a nurse. He knew I was a doctor, but somehow his neuronal synapses couldn’t quite make the right connections, so reverted to the default setting.

    It also bothers me when I have a male medical student observing and the patient constantly defers to them. Harmless I suppose, but quite irksome and never happens when I have a female medical student.

    I’m pleased you were able to educate your GPO colleague. I’ve not always been able to find my voice in situations like that.

    Oh, and Nina Proudman is my favourite obstetrician 😉

  4. Sounds all too familiar. 🙂 I also get a lot of “where do you come from my dear? It must be a long way to travel to become a nurse here in this country!”- So much after going to school, university and working in this country.

  5. The best was my 90-something year old female patient who when I told her I was in fact a physician asked me to come closer and patted me on the cheek while saying, “your parents must be so proud”. I often get asked how old I am to which I reply, “old enough, I’m older than I look, it will pay off when I’m 60!” And then move on with the consult.

  6. “NUUUURSE! GET MY SLIPPERS!” Sure, I’ve fetched a few slippers in my time in the hospital with a gentle but firm correction of my title. I also have the fortune of looking about 20-22, and probably will until I’m 35. I wear makeup to work on purpose so patients don’t assume I’m 18. I love the subtle ‘How long have you been a doctor for?’… Or the even ruder, more direct: “You’re too young to be a doctor.” I tell them all it’s because I work too hard and never see the sun, therefore I never age.

    • I am a female RN of many years. I love the fact that women are doctors. They, hopefuly, bring something to the profession that men don’t. Most don’t try to act like many of their male counterpart and I would hope that the process of getting someone slippers for them when asked is part of their job. A big part of a physician’s job is to comfort and helping someone with slippers is part of that job.

      • Thanks for your great comment, Elizabeth. Yes I’d like to think we provide comfort to our patients, I just sometimes wish we had more face-to-face time in order to be able to do that better. 🙂

  7. “Excuse me, nurse?” I am wearing a matching skirt, blazer, and blouse. With high heels. NOT cartoon character scrubs. I have to assume my age and gender influenced your mistake. But instead, I say, “Can I help you?”

    • What you wear does not tell anyone who you are or what you do. I am a nurse and don’t wear scrubs. I tell people what I do. “Can I help you” is very good start if you mean it.

  8. As Ortho reg, I’d admit, operate on, and review a patient daily, and when I discharged them I’d still get “Thanks love… and tell the surgeon he did a good job.”

    GRR!!! Why am I up at all hours and getting SFA credit?

    As an RMO doing rounds with a middle-aged male nurse, the patients would all speak to him. Poor guy was always so apologetic!

    But other medical/nursing people do it – just finished a week of nights where nurses and other staff spoke to male RMO first, despite the fact I am more senior and listed as “in charge”.

  9. Thanks so much for this post. Another factor not discussed here is race. As a young woman of colour (and also short, petite and generally young-looking), I think this was magnified for me during my training. Patients definitely often thought I was a nurse (or on one hilarious occasion, a high school co-op student). I’ve gotten an interesting mix of disbelief, curiosity and pride from patients (the patients of colour are often proud that I’m a physician as they see that as progress for immigrants), not to mention frequent inappropriate comments about my physical appearance. Just last week, I had a patient tell me he wished he was 40 years younger so he could date me (because of course I would automatically oblige).

    The tricky part here is also to not be affronted by being called a nurse when someone assumes that is your role because nursing is a highly respectable profession, but of course to point out that people are used to stereotypes perpetuated in our society and we must work to break those down. I have noted on many occasions that in media and especially in ‘stock photos and videos’, doctors tend to be middle-aged, white and male, and conversely often nurses are young, women of colour. Unfortunately, I know that the attitude I faced during my surgical rotation contributed to my not wanting anything to do with a surgical specialty, and I worry that these negative environments drive away very capable women who would change the male:female ratios in such professions.

    As a family doctor, I continue to get the comments about my age and inappropriate sexual statements, but atleast they’re my regular patients and eventually get over it. I have also in the past made a point of introducing myself as Doctor, but now pretty much just don’t bother. I don’t want to reinforce physician hierarchy/privilege simply because I’m used to not being taken seriously. So, I don’t wear a white coat, I don’t wear a name badge, I often dress in casual clothing, and I introduce myself and encourage patients to use my first name. While this doesn’t help my situation in perception that I am young, at the end of the day, I realize that as a physician you are in a position of power and it’s important to work to deconstruct that. I’m much more forgiving to patients on this one than I am to colleagues, as they really have no excuse.

    • Hi Ritika,

      Thank you so much for your comments. I did think that doctors of different ethnic backgrounds would have had similar experiences of false assumptions, but didn’t feel qualified to make comment on that myself. I completely agree with you that “stock photos” have a lot to answer for in terms of propagating stereotypes. A common theme in the comments and twitter discussions seems to be that surgical teams, in particular, have treated their female junior members badly. I, too, worry that this is something that would turn talented people off from pursuing a worthy career path.

      Your last paragraph made me smile. I’m a family doctor too and love the familiarity that comes with having long term relationships with patients. There is nothing nicer than having patients refer to you as “my doctor” and gaining that respect through being caring and thorough!

      Penny

  10. Sounds more like you are just sour that people aren’t bowing down to you because you are a doctor. Get over yourself. This happens in all professions.

    You make it sound like being called a nurse is somehow insulting or beneath you.

    • Hmmm… ok! I can see how you could interpret my comments that way, but let me clarify that I have the utmost respect for nurses and midwives. In fact, when I was promoted to “honourary midwife” on my maternity ward I took it as a huge compliment. I think that they do an amazing and vitally important job.

      This excellent blog post from Megan Lemay sums up all the reasons why I can dislike being mistaken for a nurse but without meaning any disrespect for them what-so-ever: http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/06/compliment-nurse.html

      I was more trying to draw parallels between the difference between the experiences of male and female doctors, which judging by the many comments and tweets is something that resonates very strongly with many many of my fellow lady doctors.

      And even more importantly,having your abilities and competencies questioned based on your age, gender, or any other demographic characteristic is really not ok in any professional setting.

      To summarise, I don’t think that being called a nurse is insulting, but people assuming that being a young woman means that I’m not entirely capable of doing the job that I’ve trained so many years for IS insulting.

      I would love to know your name so that we could carry on this interesting discussion further.

  11. This happens to me as an academic – not quite the same thing, but whenever I go to university services for anything, the first question asked is ‘are you a student’? (I’m 54)(too scruffy for admin). When people call, ‘Can I speak to Dr Warren?’ .Yes! ‘Great, can you put him on then…What really?…..sorry’…..

  12. I’m still a student, but I’ve definitely encountered this. I find that it’s especially prominent in rural communities. At my rural posting last year, patients would call all males (whether they were doctors, nurses or admin staff) doctor, and all females “nurse”. As if they thought it was interchangeable. One of the male nurses got even more annoyed by it than I did – and with good reason, because he has tonnes of skills that I will never have.

    As an aside, I love orthos, and people (read: men in medicine) keep telling me that I can’t because I’m a tiny woman. urgh.

  13. I am a surgeon and was on call over the weekend. My partner (older man) booked me a colectomy for an obstructing colon cancer. I went to see the patient on the ward and her sister was there. She and the patient said in unison “You’re a girl!”. I made the usual joke when people are shocked by my gender. Then she said “No, we were WARNED you were female, but at least expected a grown woman!”. Then all the usual questions of how old I am, many cases I have done, etc.

    Interestingly, she is POD 3 today and I have won them all over! It takes time to change the public’s perception but one patient at a time we will change this!

    • Thanks, Rebecca!
      Many of the comments on twitter and here on the blog have been from ladies who had a really tough time on surgical rotations which put them off a surgical career. Did you ever get treated differently by male surgical colleagues and if so, did it ever put you off? Do you worry that this might happen to up-and-coming potential female surgeons?
      Very interested in your perspective!
      Penny

      • No I was treated very well as a medical student and resident in Dept of Surgery – it was a little intimidating at first but if you work hard, choose the right program and be realistic about what the training will take you can be very successful. Surgery programs are getting more female applicants and program completion rates are the same as men.

        Bottom line is… if women want to be a surgeon and they are getting discouraged by male surgeons they should avoid that program. It won’t be easy to get through the training in the environment. There are many many female friendly programs and a little research can find them.

  14. Why do you think its only Dr that have this issue? North American media has sterotyped all of us. Ignore it and take the compliment. The important people will reconize it 🙂

    • Yes I’m sure that stereotyping and assumptions based on appearance happen to all different people in many different situations. I was just making observations based on my own experiences. Most of my readers are doctors, too. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  15. I’m not a doctor but a patient in my 30’s. I think I may be my doctor’s best patient because she may be out of med school 5 yrs and I’ve never been so insensitive to question her credentials or skills because of her young years. I feel more confident because I feel she just got out of med school so she knows the latest and greatest!!

    • Hi Brigitte,
      Yes I am very lucky to have had lots of great patients like you. Always the best proof of your credentials is to do a great job and it sounds like your doctor is doing that.
      And yes, I’ve done my specialist exams in the last year or two so I’m very up to date with my knowledge. It’s always funny to see the patients’ suprise when the very experienced GPs at the practice seek me out for advice. Hahah
      Thanks heaps for reading and for commenting.
      Penny

  16. Completely agree. The most infuriating thing is having to work twice as hard to earn the respect of female colleagues. Completely ridiculous. Aren’t we supposed to be helping each other and not hindering each other!???

  17. As a fellow physician, this post makes me uncomfortable for the following reasons:
    1) It is extremely degrading to nurses. How offensive to you that someone would ever mistake you for a caring front line health care worker?
    2) At the end of the day you’re a physician making 250k plus per year. But wait, “I’m a DOCTOR! Don’t you know who I am?”

    Perhaps a little more sensitivity training is required. Whining about your misfortune as society’s elite isn’t becoming.

    • Hi Frank,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m sorry that you interpreted my post in that light. I can assure you that I meant absolutely no degradation to anyone, least of all my nursing colleagues, for whom I have great respect and appreciation.

      I was more trying to raise the issue of different experiences that male and female doctors seem to have, particularly at the junior level. Based on the comments on my blog and twitter feed it seems that there is overwhelming agreement with my sentiments. I also want to highlight the spectrum of assumptions that people make about other people based on their appearance, gender, age, etc.

      I’m curious to know if you’ve ever discussed this with your female colleagues and discovered if their experience has been different to yours. You might be surprised what you discover.

      Lastly, I am always very conscious of the priviledge position I have – both in my ability to have flexible, challenging, satisfying and meaningful work, and also to earn a good living from doing so. However, we all do need a reminder every now and then so thanks for bringing that up.

      Penny

    • I don’t think I have ever considered myself to be a members of society’s elite!

      Maybe that comes from the the fact my Dad was a bricky, my Mum a hard working nurse. My first job was being my Dad’s labourer mixing cement and hauling bricks. Then I moved onto making hamburgers at Hungry Jacks. Two degrees and a fellowship later I am a member of society elite – I don’t think so Frank. Geez I don’t even own a suit.

      • Hehe, nice one, Mark!
        I started my working life in Hungry Jack’s too! I don’t consider myself elite, either. I also come from a modest family and don’t feel my qualifications have changed my place in society.
        Plus – it’s hard to feel elite when you spend half your life splattered in blood, placenta, meconium, vomit, amniotic fluid and paperwork!

  18. I don’t think that anything in this post is insulting to nurses and anyone who reads it as such should examine their own preconceptions.

    As for our position as the elite in society, many training physicians don’t earn anywhere near the figure quoted in the earlier comment. I do feel we are privileged to have the jobs we do but perhaps labelling us all in a monetary sense is not only inaccurate but serves to strengthen existing stereotypes.

  19. I have many times been called a nurse or overheard my patients saying that they havent seen a doctor yet when I just saw them and introduced myself to them as one of the doctors. It doesnt usually bother me to be called a nurse as I respect my nursing colleagues but it is frustrating when you have just told them that you are a doctor and they still think you are a nurse. I once was called sister by a patient that for some reason I found more annoying than being called a nurse.

    I havent ever been told I was too young which I guess means I look old :P. And I think I have always been treated the same as my male colleagues by other staff. But I am only in my second post graduate year so perhaps things are changing.

    I think things will change and patients will realise that people graduate from medical school in their 20s and half of them are women. I think those who have called me a nurse have always been older patients perhaps from the time when there were very rarely female doctors.

  20. Don’t apologies for the couple of neurotically intelligent-prose-challenged nurses who comment because they hadn’t the mental nor emotional capacity to understand or draw from your experiences. It’s been my personal experience working and locumming in tens of different hospitals around the country that SOME of the nursing staff are truly capricious monumental roadblocks for most of my female interns. Whether it’s intentional or not, it happens before my very eyes. It’s an appalling culture of bullying and stubbornness, with our poor patients who get caught in the middle.

    • Thanks, Bass. I certainly have experienced bullying by nurses and interns, but also by senior doctors. Unfortunately I think there are bullies everywhere. Let’s try and keep the discussion respectful, folks.

  21. As female in allied health, i would say that it is NOT exclusive to dr’s. I frequently spend half an hour with a patient performing an assessment, giving feedback etc, only to hear the patient explain to someone that the ‘nurse just came in’. I choose not to take it personally – these people are seen by SO MANY people each day – it must get very confusing after a few days in hospital. Instead of thinking they are undermining you, or stereotyping you, simply put it down to that. Yes, there will be the odd person who identifies more with the male dr idea…but it’s just about informing them who you are and what you are here to do, and getting on with the job.

  22. Hey Penny,

    I totally agree that, in general, the female residents seemed to have to work harder for the same recognition than male residents. I don’t know how much of it is brought on by us though. I was never asked to do more, I just pushed myself harder. maybe we are our own worst enemies.
    I used to make my own generalisations too. I would always be more intimidated and impressed by a female senior than a male and I also found most of my female seniors more thorough. Since then I have seen slackers on both sides!

    I heard that there are now more female medical students than male. Not sure if it is true. I am sure that will change some of this.

  23. Great blog. Appropriate for me today after an interaction with a patient this morning.

    “I recommended my daughter see you doctor. She wanted to see an old doctor.”

  24. I get this all the time! Bullying from nurses – particularly (surprisingly) older female nurses is rampant until I make it clear (sometimes this is not as tactful nor private as it should be) that no, sorry, not as spineless not junior as you seem to think. Pretty common on jobs where I have a co-resident or intern who is male, he is inevitably the one deferred to during ward rounds etc. Makeup helps, as does dressing maturely, but sometimes it just can’t be helped.

    Example from this morning’s round
    “Excuse me dear, hello doctor, this young lady was just talking to me.”
    “That lady *is* your doctor. See the badge on her chest that says ‘doctor’?”

  25. I work in a psychiatric private practice so it doesn’t happen as much to me these day, but in training when rounding on floors it happened all the time. The male residents (even male medical students) always elicited more respect oftentimes, when we did consults. Thanks for your interesting comments.

  26. As a paediatrician, I get mothers who clutch their infants to their chests, and say “you are really the doctor? How old are you?”. One day, having been up for over 24 hours (so my tolerance was at low ebb), I replied “I am older than you, and I feel older than my grandmother. Now, how can I help you with your baby?” (I am usually more tactful then this!)
    The best though was one day in the hospital I was dressed in scrubs (it had been a messy night on call) and a lady with a little boy came and asked me for directions. I directed her to the right clinic, and she thanked me, and turning away said to her child “Come on Sweetie, the nurse said it is this way”. The child replied “She wasn’t a nurse, Mommy. The nurses have white legs”!!! (He must have seen some of the nurses with white tights on!!!

  27. Bravo Penny for an insightful post. I’m a junior doctor in WA working the front line in ED so I manage to bear the brunt of these assumptions daily. Most of the time I’m not phased by the misconception that I’m a nurse – like you, I know my nursing colleagues are highly skilled, compassionate people and I’m proud to work with them. But this week I’ve copped two of my least favourite questions/statements. 1) How old are you, how long have you been training, when did you decide to study medicine? – Bearing in mind I was asked these by a supporter of Dr Google who had presented convinced she had a particular condition when in fact, it was clearly something completely unrelated (and non-emergent I might add!). When I suggested that there may be another cause for her symptoms and why ‘her’ diagnosis was unlikely, the patient launched into her diatribe of questions. Thank goodness it was the beginning of my shift, otherwise I may have asked her where she got her medical degree.

    The next night, I saw a highly anxious mother with a child who’d gone to bed well but woken with a low grade fever (38.0). The child looked well and I spent a lot of time explaining to the mother that I couldn’t diagnose the cause of the fever when it had been present for all of 45 mins (they live near the hospital and came straight in after detecting the raised temp.) She then accused me of “playing Russian roulette” with her child’s life and when I tried to reassure her and explain why further testing was unnecessary, she asked, “Do you have children?” When I replied, “No,” she quipped back, “then you couldn’t possibly understand!” Seriously??? Thank goodness for the interruption of a phone call because after spending a significant amount of time extensively examining her child, listening to her specific concerns and reassuring her, to have my training/education voided by my lack of “mothering experience” was almost more than I could bear at 4am.

    But today, like most of us, I will brush myself off and go back to work because I love what I do and know that mostly, my work is needed and appreciated.

    • Thanks for the great comment!

      My one and only formal complaint from a patient was when working as a junior in a paediatric ED overnight when I had appropriately assessed, reassured and safety-netted a child with a viral illness who didn’t need any specific treatment. The mother was unhappy because she wanted the child to be “fixed”. (I had left my magic wand at home that day).

      Definitely a case where a “therapeutic second opinion” from someone a bit older looking might have saved me a heap of hassle and a black mark on my record!

  28. Reminds me of my first ward round as a medical student.
    Post take general medical with female house officer and registrar who had seen the patient the day before and female consultant.
    Was trying to keep up chasing notes, the consultant was midway through examining the patient when I nipped through the curtain with notes in my arms and was greeted with a loud
    “Thank God! I finally get to see a doctor!”
    There are no words to describe how mortified I was and my bumbling attempts to direct the patients replys and conversation to the consultant didn’t improve things.
    After the consultant had discusses the management plan with the patient they again turned to me and asked if I agreed.
    After a hurried yes of course I slunk away to get coffee…

  29. Great post! During a recent interview for a job as a GP at a practice I was asked “Do you bake?” as one of the first questions. WTF I didn’t apply for the job as practice cook.

  30. I am a nurse in my early 30s working in a hospital environment. The deciding factor for patients that I see is that I do not wear uniform. Therefore, I am a doctor. I introduce myself EVERY time as “X, one of the nurses working in pain management”, yet it often doesn’t get through. I guess what I am saying is it’s not about you it is about the patients. They see and hear what they want to see and hear, or what they think they should be seeing or hearing.

  31. I am not a doctor nor a nurse, but i do work in the administration side of the hospital. I haven’t encountered any misjudge because of my age or gender. Mostly it is outside the hospital, the social gatherings, that i get sidetracked because they thought i was younger than my age. Being Asian has perks. We all look younger, generally, than our real age. Sometimes, it’s flattering… but most of the time, annoying. They don’t take you seriously because you are “young”. But like you, it gets better with time. I may still look young but the treatment sure was different than before. Probably because I am assertive and i don’t take crap from people. Good luck! 😉

  32. I’m certain it happens more to females, but the same thing definitely happens to males. I’ve been getting the same thing (the how long have you been a doctor, you’re too young etc…. but not really the groping hands or patients checking me out) ever since graduation. I no longer wear scrubs in the ED unless there’s a set uniform, as patients definitely seem to respond more favourably when i’m in professional attire rather than pyjamas… though i do look particularly child-like in scrubs…

    In the social (dating) setting, to admit you are a doctor as a young male is more often than not met with disbelief and comments/presumptions that you are full of crap due to either being too young, or clearly making up a glamorous (little do they know) occupation in an attempt to get some action… Often it’s easier to try steer the conversation away from occupations than to have to justify your answer…

    • Yes!
      Being a doctor in the social scene is fraught with danger! I must admit I also tend to play down my profession if I’m meeting people for the same time by saying something vague like “I work in healthcare” or “I work at the hospital” or “I deliver babies”. I find that if you come straight out and say “I’m a doctor” people do think you are talking yourself up, even though it’s just an accurate statement of what you do, and even though you don’t feel “above” anyone else. Interestingly I think it feels easier to say “GP” rather than “doctor” – feels more relate-able somehow. And when it comes to dating.. oh lordy! Some men are definitely intimidated by the doctor thing, but I think that’s just a reflection of some men being intimidated by smart, accomplished women in general. I wouldn’t want to date anyone who was scared off by my job, anyway.
      Hehe.. maybe a topic for a future blog post…

  33. It isn’t any better in the medical fraternity. As a medical student I once was sitting in with a male GP colleague. During a discussion on career options he promptly turned to me and stated that female doctors were taking up valuable medical student spots as all we were going to do was graduate then drop out to have babies. That one comment has stuck with me since graduating and I almost feel BAD for choosing to have a family. Just another side to the story.

    And yes I have had the DOCTOR blazoned across my chest in emergency, treated the NSTEMI and then had the patient turn around and say “but when am I going to see the doctor?”. After working as a nurse and then going on to qualify as a doctor I can see how frustrating this is. And you never want to complain or make a big deal out of it cos nurses work bloody hard. But so did I for those 6yrs medical school, 3yrs postgrad etc. etc.

  34. Great post! Finding the right doctor these days can be challenging and so patients must be armed with as much useful information as possible before moving forward. After all, it is your health and it should never be taken lightly. Thanks for posting!

  35. Great post! I think as young professional women we are our own worst enemies. I am most often mistaken for a nurse by female nurses, young female patients, and other female doctors.
    I will defend our male colleagues though. While I know others have had different experiences, as a GP and now an Emergency registrar (yes I’m crazy) I have never been mistaken for a nurse by a male doctor. Never.

  36. Beautifully written! I have experienced every scenario and couldn’t have written a more accurate account. Thank you for bringing awareness to this topic!

  37. Penny, great blog! As with dave chessor, your blog came up because so many of my friends “liked” it. Imagine my surprise when I read it and saw it was written by you! Totally agree with your article. Keep up the good work 🙂
    Ashe

  38. I spent 4 hours with a patient, tapped her as cites, discussed her prognosis etc at length and when I tried to discharge her she was on the phone telling her son she hadn’t seen a dr yet. It doesn’t help that our health service for whatever reason doesn’t put dr on our ID. RMO doesn’t mean much to trenpublic.

  39. Good post. I’m sorry you felt it was necessary to prove yourself to your male colleagues/co-workers. Being a person of color, I also felt the need to exceed in every single thing in order to gain recognition and respect. Over time, I eventually earned their respect without having that expectation. That whole attitude of “I busted my hump to get here, they should recognize that!” isn’t the right mindset.

    If you have that “expectation” of respect, then you won’t get it. Regardless of your credentials, years of school, alma mater, etc., if you lack humility, there’s no way you can gain their respect and you end up feeling some resentment. I’m not in any way implying that you’re not a hard worker or lack humility. I’m just speaking in general terms. If you want the acknowledgement and respect of your co-workers, then you need to do whatever it takes to earn that.

      • I know! Life would be so much better! But I wish you all the best and I hope your colleagues acknowledge your hard work!

  40. Great post! Nice to hear other women are experiencing similar things! I have been called a nurse (also no disrespect to nurses), office manager and drug rep! It is beyond frustrating to have worked so hard and not get the respect that my male colleagues get!

  41. I’m still a med student, and even I’ve already encountered this. Whenever someone asks me what I’m studying, and I tell them that I’m in medical school, the follow-up question is ALWAYS “oh, so you’re studying to be a nurse?”. UHMMM HELLLOOOO I just told you I was in medical school.

    It only really upsets me when people in the medical field do this though. I was so excited to start rotations at the beginning of this month, that is until I met my preceptor. The first thing he said to me was that I better not take any days off for silly reasons like having cramps. He asks me to get him his coffee twice a day, every day, but as you all can guess, he’s never asked the male student who rotates with me to do so. Worst part is that is a psych rotation and I feel like of all physicians, he should know better. It sucks to see that it doesn’t end once you earn your degree.

  42. In my place usually people will prefer younger doctors since they’re more friendly than old doctors. I mean, if you’re examined by younger doctor you’ll get more chances to avoid anxiety with strangers and get into conversation since your doctos is a bit close to your age. But some midwifes have bad reputation here because there has been a lot of accidents in birth labour process. Made me a bit nervous with young mindwifes, I suppose.

  43. Let me tell you, as a young physician of color (African American to be specific) I have been mistaken for everything in the book. Even by other health care workers. I once had a receptionist hand me her lunch trash because she thought I was janitorial services or ask me to push a patient because of course I must be transport. LOL. This happens even when I am wearing a white coat with my scrubs.

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