Despite introducing ourselves as “Dr. [last name]” and wearing white coats with “DOCTOR” badges affixed, patients often assume female physicians are nurses, technicians, and, for people of color, transport or custodial staff. We advocate for proper professional recognition not because we devalue these other important jobs but because role confusion leads to poor patient care and because we want to combat societal stereotypes that women are not doctors.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 40 – No 03 – March 2021
Throughout training, several of my female co-residents and I noticed our supervising male senior residents and attendings introducing themselves to our patients by their first name. While not poorly intentioned, it made it more awkward for us to introduce ourselves as “Dr. [last name],” as we preferred. In response, a group of us led residency-wide conversations to encourage all residents and attendings to introduce themselves as “Dr. [last name].” We hoped this would make it easier for female physicians to introduce themselves as such and ensure that their roles in patient care are understood. We thought we were doing something to improve the professional experience of female physicians across the board. But we had not thought about all the possible impacts this could have on our colleagues.
One of our female co-residents courageously spoke up, saying that she did not like to be introduced by her last name. Patients could easily recognize her last name as Hispanic, and she feared they would assume that they were receiving inferior care or single her out in some way, such as interrogating her about her training or asking for a different physician.
It was an important realization. Good intentions are necessary but not sufficient. Doing what we think is good for women in medicine may not serve all female physicians. My co-resident’s comments led our group to a discussion about privilege—the advantages or immunities enjoyed by a powerful group, often without that group’s awareness—to the disadvantage of other groups.
For many, it can be less comfortable to talk about privilege in terms of race and ethnicity than in terms of gender. Patients less frequently question physicians with Euro-American last names. Even accents can lead patients to ask physicians about their ethnicity, nationality, or training. When patients do so with Euro-American physicians, it is often couched as part of a pleasant conversation, in contrast to a common succession of questions faced by minority physicians: “What kind of a last name is that?” “Is that an American name?” “Where are you from?” “Where did you go to medical school?” And what’s implied: “Are you really qualified to be my doctor?”
The middle road approach our residency came to was asking individuals to consider their own privilege—or lack thereof—in deciding how to introduce themselves. It was not simple. It took time. But it was worth doing to encourage inclusion.