Over the weekend I had a catch up with “the girls”. A lovely group of ladies I went to medical school with. It was some 13 years ago when we all met at O Camp (orientation camp – a rite of passage for any uni student) We were a fairly random bunch of fun loving girls who gravitated towards each other and have kept a bond since. Through medical school and our working years we shared many a birthday, break ups, make ups, weddings, and now babies. So it was pretty amazing sitting there seeing this group, thinking what a strong beautiful bunch of women they are. Each with their own story, career goals, and most importantly – life goals.
To me they are all strong intelligent women in their own right. But I couldn’t help but wonder – what do patients think when they see a young woman treating them? Giving them life advice? Saving their lives?
Think for a second of a stereotypical doctor. Whom do you imagine?
An older male? Silver hair? Nice suit? Some may even think of a white coat (I don’t think doctors in Australia ever wore white coats?)
Would anyone think: young female, nice dress, coloured hair, perfectly manicured face and nails? Does this still scream out strong, smart doctor who you can trust? Or it there still that sense of..someone get rid of this med student and bring me a real doctor…
For example, it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence when I first started Paediatrics to have to ask a more senior, male doctor to come and speak to parents about advice. It also wasn’t an uncommon occurrence that he would repeat the exact same thing I had said and the parents would finally agree that YES their child needed to come in to hospital or NO their child didn’t need antibiotics (probably the two most common things we need to reiterate in our jobs) It was very disheartening at first. But then I realised that maybe it wasn’t me, maybe it was just what society had engrained in them from the years leading up to these changing times.
There is one instance that will always stick with me. Now in all my years of Paediatrics, working on the Cardiology ward as a junior doctor was the busiest. There were lots of reasons. Sick kids – like really sick kids, complicated medicine and long hours, sometimes 80 hour weeks. It felt like we never left the ward. Every day we’d do our own ward round to check on patients before the Cardiologists, then we’d do a ward round with the Cardiologists, then check on each patient on our own during the day, then do an afternoon ward round with the registrars as well. In between there were clinics, meetings, teaching and did I mention ward rounds? On one of these busy days I was standing outside a patient’s room, a patient I had seen about five times that day. Inside mum was on the phone, clearly frustrated. I couldn’t help but overhear part of her conversation.. “It’s been a very long day. I’ve been in the room all day and I haven’t even seen a doctor yet”
Since then I always introduce myself as being the doctor. I used to be quite shy saying “Hi, I’m your doctor” or “I’m the registrar” while the 40 something junior resident is scribbling notes next to me and everyone thinks he’s the Paediatrician. It’s better now. In the past few years it’s only been a few times I’ve had to ask someone male and older to come and repeat the exact same thing. Most parents do not pass judgement and this is only few and far between but I can’t help feeling occasionally we have to fight for our rights to be trusted as much as everyone else.
Maybe introducing ourselves is all we need to do. Make it clear from the outset, not leave it up to people’s imagination if I’m the nurse, or medical student or overseas trainee!! I’m glad it’s changing and that we can slowly change the way people look at us. Because us group of women standing around in that room, and many many more have been well and truly unleashed in to the medical field and do not, and should not, conform to the stereotypical doctor type. We are who we are!
So off I go to work in Emergency with my cute penguin earrings, new top, Princess Jasmine on my lanyard, ready to deal with absolutely anything that walks through those Emergency doors…
Be healthy. Be happy. Be kind.
Dr. Nelu x
(Photo credit: http://blogs.dailynews.com/outinhollywood/author/greg-hernandez/page/254/)