Every day of my working life in paediatrics, a patient has assumed I am a nurse. This is after I’ve already introduced myself as a doctor. Parents will often say ‘hold still while the nurse listens to your chest’ or ‘sorry I can’t talk on the phone, the nurse is here’.
My most notable was the 7 year old boy who, after my consultation asked me ‘why does it say doctor on your top when you’re a nurse?’.
But the truth is, whilst I do correct them, it’s not the time or place to get into a discussion about sexism and role in medicine with your patient. As @ben_hock recognized too.
I would never berate a relative/patient. They are scared and often don’t understand everything that’s occurring. Fellow clinicians however…
— DrBen (@ben_hock) December 31, 2017
And that’s why it was a big deal for me this week when this happened, but from a colleague. I tweeted my story, and this has provoked a large discussion on twitter, and unsurprisingly, it wasn’t all positive.
Me to Med Reg in ED: hi, can I help you?
MR: yes, I’ve come to see the referral
Me: great, I’ve just cannulated him and I’ll show you where he is
MR: are there any doctors around I could speak to?
— Tessa Davis (@TessaRDavis) December 29, 2017
The response on twitter has been astounding. So many women experience the same thing from colleagues – in spite of all the evidence that they are doctors, the assumption is still made that because they are a woman they are more likely to be in another profession.
Happens to me twice a day, on a good day. I tried correcting people (including other doctors) but it got me nowhere.
— Dana Peso, M.D. (@pesodana) December 29, 2017
But of course, this is social media, and so not everyone offered me sympathy or empathised. There were four main criticisms, or rather explanations, as to why this must of happened. It couldn’t be plain sexism, could it?
1. You brought it on yourself.
I think #hellomynameis applies to communication between colleagues as well as with patients. Less embarrassment all round if we say who we are and what we do when we greet each other rather than have to ask.
— Terry Aspray (@mmse30) December 30, 2017
I didn’t introduce myself. I really should have, and actually I feel I do this 90% of the time. In this particular case I didn’t, but I was still trying to be kind by helping the person who’d come to our department while sorting out my blood bottles etc so thought I’d just quickly direct them to the patient.
But should I have to explain this to the twittersphere? Is it really my fault that the registrar is sexist, because I didn’t do enough to intervene before he expressed his prejudice?
2. Being a nurse isn’t an insult.
I choose to take being mistaken for a nurse as the compliment that it is…
— Ruth Johnson (@drruthjohnson) December 30, 2017
There were quite a few comments like this, with the insinuation that I was insulted because I was called a nurse, and that means I think that nurses are somehow inferior to doctors. This is an odd debate that simply gets in the way of the issue at hand.
It’s like someone calling me Robert, and then when I tell them my name is actually Tessa, someone else steps in with ‘there’s nothing wrong with being called Robert you know!’.
There is, in my mind, no inherent value judgement in being called a nurse. Nurses are no better nor worse than doctors so the conversation wasn’t insulting because he called me a nurse. It was insulting because in seeing my gender, he did not see a doctor. He made an assumption that women are nurses, and men are doctors. That has nothing to do with the worth of each profession.
3. It’s an easy mistake to make. He probably thought you were a nurse because x…
It is cause you had cannulated?
— Anne Marie Cunningham (@amcunningham) December 29, 2017
Is it an assumption about which gender *should* be in these roles or an assumption based on the probability that a person of a given gender *will* be in these roles?
I'm not saying don't address it, just that you might be overplaying the malevolence of the cause.
— Nicholas Chrimes (@NicholasChrimes) December 30, 2017
She also looked like a nurse and talked like a nurse (to the extent that most patients distinguish between "medical stuff" a clinician might say).
The assumption that someone that does those things is probably a nurse is actually correct.
I think "discounted" is a leap.
— Nicholas Chrimes (@NicholasChrimes) December 31, 2017
But let’s get realistic. I was clearly a doctor. I was wearing a doctor’s uniform. I had doctor on my scrubs. I have three badges on my top which also state doctor.
I really don’t think this was an easy ‘mistake’ to make.
She literally had “doctor” stitched on her scrubs.
— Mitochondrial Eve (@BrowofJustice) December 31, 2017
4. You need to chill out.
There were also many suggestions that I took it the wrong way, and that he probably meant no harm.
Anyway, main issue I assume was sorted/ ie the patient: we all get moments of ego n identity bashing/ would not assume any sexist connotation / just a simple mistake on the part of the Paeds Reg more likely
— John Doherty (@dohertjgd) December 30, 2017
This undermining of my experience is really frustrating. The idea that I was upset because of my ego, or that I allowed patient care to be impacted because of this comment, again just missed the point.
And then there was the harsh comments that felt I was making a big fuss about nothing.
There are 99 problems that really matter in the feminism / sexism / misogyny space, and this ain't one. Sorry. I have been mistaken for a nurse, wardsman, student, etc. Correct them and move on.
— Chris Cole (@DocOnSkis) December 31, 2017
(and in case you missed the reference, this is from ‘I got 99 problems and a bitch ain’t one’ by Jaz-Z) *thanks to @unsarcasticone for flagging this
Really I’m at a loss as to how to reply to these. Comments like this are intimidating. I’m not shy at standing up for myself, but how am I supposed to reply to this? Why would someone post this?
It’s been an interesting few days all round. And the best part has been hearing from other women and men supporting standing up to sexism in medicine. Here’s a few of the best.
It's nice to think this is a simple mistake, but it's constant and frustrating; if you are not exposed to it you might not get it.
— Nadine Hughes (@emerghughes) December 30, 2017
I was clearly a doctor….
She. looked. like. a. doctor.
And talked like a doctor and was in the places where doctors are, doing what doctors do.
And despite all that evidence, the idea that she could actually be a doctor was STILL discounted.
— Penny Wilson (@nomadicgp) December 31, 2017
And it was clearly sexism. It’s even more frustrating when other healthcare professionals on social media try to explain it away:
Telling ppl who are being marginalised and discriminated against not to be angry about it is dismissive. It's a normal response to be cross.
— Helen Stigaard Laird (@Helenlaird) December 31, 2017
It is sexist. It does affect women, as is clearly seen in this thread. And if you are not going to recognise this then you are part of the problem. 6/6
— Michael FitzPatrick (@DoctorFitz) December 31, 2017
And a particular thanks goes to those who PM’d me (especially @_nmay, @jeremyfaust, @aLittleMedic, and @nomadicgp).
But that’s the reality of the environment we work in. Most people were hugely supportive and have experienced the same. But there are plenty out there working alongside in hospitals that think I was being over-sensitive or making a big deal out of nothing. There is still a long way to go with sexism in medicine.