Everyday Sexism

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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…

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.

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.

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.

(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.

I was clearly a doctor….

And it was clearly sexism. It’s even more frustrating when other healthcare professionals on social media try to explain it away:

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.

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