Always the nurse, never the doctor…..

8 Jan


Hello all, if anyone reading this has ever read any of my posts before, she/he will realise this is nothing like what I usually write about. My blog’s name is poor party girl and I tend to talk about cooking, decorating, shopping all on a budget. Which I love! However there is something which has been nagging me for sometime and which I feel I need to express. Maybe hundreds or thousands will read this, maybe only 3 or 4 people will, either way it’s okay. I needed an outlet and this is one so here goes…..

This post as the name (a twist on the “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” phrase) blatantly implies is about a doctor being mistaken for and referred to and treated as a nurse. Specifically a female doctor… which I am.

Let me state that of course this is not something that has never been addressed, in fact it has been spoken about over and over, however this is my personal account of what I experience in my job.

I have to give the obvious disclaimer and quite frankly the reason why I try never to fuss when I am called a nurse.

That is: Nurses are awesome. Amazing! They are educated, well trained, hard working caring professionals. They are some of my closest collegues as a doctor and quite often become acquaintences and friends. It is not an insult to be called a nurse. In fact, in most cases it is a compliment, an honour even. I love nurses and I respect them and their noble profession.

But I am NOT one.

I am a DOCTOR.

I too,am educated, trained, hard working and caring, but I am not a nurse.

When I meet patients for the first time I ALWAYS introduce myself as I was taught to in medical school. I say : “Hello my name is Dr. …..” and proceed. Yet those same patients, sometimes minutes later will look at me and call me nurse. No matter what I say, they will call me nurse. They often apologise and correct themselves in the moment then go right back to calling me nurse.

Sometimes I am walking along the corridor at work (I work in a hospital) I am wearing work attire and a white coat. People I pass will say “Good morning nurse” Often I smile back and nod, not wishing to be impolite but inwardly I groan and wonder if these people realise I am not wearing nurse’s clothing at all!

On the outside, if I tell people I work at a hospital or they see me in scrubs they say :”You’re a nurse?” I then have to sigh, take a deep breath and tell them that I am indeed a doctor. NO ONE has ever said ” You’re a doctor?” NO ONE!

I have numerous female counterparts who experience this day in day out. This is a part of our lot in life as young female doctors. Quite frankly, I find it exasperating but perhaps not for the reason you may think.

When I speak of this “issue” to persons outside of medicine I find some people think us to be arrogant, somehow we feel we are better than nurses and so it is an insult to be called one. Let me tell you, I have no doubt that there are plenty of persons who think that way and I have no defense for their ignorance but I am not one.

People also suggest that since our jobs can be so similar and have so much overlap then there is no big difference, no big deal. I have no defense for their ignorance either.

The reason why I get frustrated is because in my mind, referring to any and every young female in a hospital setting as a nurse speaks to a deeper issue, the archaic mindset that MEN are doctors and WOMEN are nurses.

There I said it. This article is about sexism in medicine. And it is alive and kicking!

In times of old, that was almost always the case, doctors were men and nurses were women who followed the doctor’s orders without question. It was also the norm for people to use coal to fuel their stoves, collect water from streams and have no telephone or electricity.

This is 2014! We have seen pictures of the surface of Mars!, a single handheld device allows one to manage their entire life and communicate with people all over the world all day everyday! The world has moved on from that time. Why is it so difficult to wrap one’s head around the fact that women can be doctors!

I promise you that NONE of my male counterparts get called nurse. EVER!

This issue is not isolated to lay-persons,

I have noticed that there are certain things nurses themselves will ask me to do or in some cases MAKE me do that I know are not necessarily part of my job and I KNOW is not asked of my male counterparts. These tasks are often hygiene related: cleaning up patients, getting them dressed etc, you know…….”a woman’s job”. I am usually happy to help. I know nurses are often overworked (just like us doctors I might add) and I have no problem doing anything which will ultimately benefit the patient. I just register that most male doctors would never be asked to to these tasks and that makes me feel taken advantage of.

Doctors (male and usually surgeons) often negatively remark about the increasing number of female doctors, in some cases with disgust. They sigh at the thought of having mostly females as their junior staff. Some doctors, both men and women have tried to steer female medical students away from certain specialties and towards others because they are “easier to handle” if you want a family. So………….men don’t have families too? I suppose, being men, they don’t need to be active in family life, they don’t need to take care of their children, let the women do that….right?

They have a point though. The dynamic is changing dramatically. Most of the doctors in the hospital where I work are female, from the consultants(attending) back down to the interns. My entire department is comprised of all female doctors. In addition, there is a growing number of male nurses.That said, women have been doctors for years, I mean hundreds of years (Hello, Dr.Quinn!…lol). So much has changed and been accepted since women began practicing medicine. Yet, when I introduce myself to you, examine you and write a prescription for you, you look at me and call me nurse.

Sometimes I will challenge a patient and ask why,” Why do you call me nurse?” No one ever has an answer.

I have an answer. It is because I am a woman. And despite all the strides we have made, medicine and certain other older, highly respected professions (law, architechture, aviation) is still a boys club.

Men are genrally perceived as stronger than women, physically and emotionally (what a laugh) and so professions where men have always dominated are seen as masculine and strong and better, To be a doctor means you are masculine and strong and better , you must be a man (at least in the flawed eyes of society).How can a young, dainty thing manage to be a doctor? No no, she must be a nurse. Nurses are soft and young and pretty (again in societiy’s ridiculously flawed eyes)

I am not sure, that in my lifetime, I will see this thinking change. That makes me sad.

This type of sexism experienced in medicine is just a part of the problem, the problem being that we are in a wildy misogynistic society no matter what we tell ourselves.

People still look appalled when a woman says she doesn’t want to get married or have children (if you don’t do that you aren’t fulfilling your womanly duties), SCREW them!

I was told by a fellow doctor (male, devout Christian) that perhaps I attract less than suitable suitors(who says I want suitable suitors anyway!) because of my “image”, he then referred to a skirt I wore a few days earlier (with stockings let me add) as being too short and maybe that type of dressing attracts the wrong type of fellow……..I HAD NO WORDS… I suppose people like that also think a woman who dresses sexily deserves to be raped….. like I said, no words…

In some countries, which shall remain nameless, in order for a married woman to have a tubal ligation, her husband has to sign a form….. ,get this……giving permission.!Yes I said he has to give his wife PERMISSION to do something to HER body. Speechless and close to tears just thinking about that one.

In my country, we do a secondary school entrance exam and get placed in schools (ranked from “best” to “?not best” based on the grades we get in said exam[that is a whole other issue there]), boys with lower grades get higher placements than girls with those SAME grades This is so the “top schools” aren’t completely devoid of males. Then they don’t understand why we outshine them throughout school (like seriously?).

Like I said, sexism in medicine is just a peice of the problem pie and my personal, daily hell! I am not seen as or treated as an equal to my male collegues. Because I am young(ish) and care about my looks(ish) and act caring and kind and humble(classically feminine traits, again a flawed view).

Until I am decrepit (nothing to do with actual age) and no longer care about how I look(never!) or am no longer totally accomodating and kindly and motherly and no longer willing to do anything from the cleaner’s work to the secretary’s work. Until I lose my humility and every ounce of femininity I will ALWAYS be the NURSE and NEVER the DOCTOR!

We have come a long way but boy girl do we have far to go.

Have an awesome day!

2 Responses to “Always the nurse, never the doctor…..”

  1. kelechi ikeri January 11, 2014 at 20:16 #

    well said camille! well said.


  2. redforgender January 8, 2014 at 17:46 #

    Hi Camille, thank you so much for sharing this story. With your permission I would like to re-blog it on the CODE RED for gender justice blog! We’re also hosting a Caribbean Blog Carnival and would like to invite you to participate. Links below:


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