Then I Broke An Old Lady’s Zygomatic Process

….okay not really, but if I wasn’t anti-oldladypunching I would have. It’s probably a good thing I hold this stance on using my fists to show 70 year old women what I think, otherwise there’s a good chance I would have earned myself a nice new set of silver bracelets yesterday afternoon (and this blog post probably would’ve been titled very differently – ex. “How I Got Kicked Out Of Medical School”).

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. During my 12 minute drive (that is a long drive for this town) to school yesterday I had some time to think. Naturally I was thinking, “How can I bore these gullible people who read my blog just a wee bit more today.” I decided I would write about how, when people ask what I’m doing with my life and I tell them I’m in medical school, the most common response I hear is “Oh, to be a nurse?

Now, let’s get this straight right now, I have nothing against nurses. In fact, my mom is a nurse and she’s pretty dang awesome. And my sister-in-law is a nurse and she is almost as awesome as my mom. I just think it’s….strange….that I get asked this so often. I did some very formal research asking around at school and have conclusively discovered that my male counterparts have never had this response, but many of the other females in our class hear the same question often. I guess all I really mean is that a stereotype still exists that girls are nurses and boys are doctors. I won’t get into how absolutely eff-ing ridiculous this is based on the amount of male nurses and female doctors I’ve worked with, but it’s obviously something people still believe, whether they hold that belief on a conscious or unconscious level I have no idea.

So, really this post was supposed to be to brag on how cool I thought it was that the last three people who asked what I’m in school for have responded with “Oh, to be a doctor?” before wondering about any other medical profession.

But, then I put on my new jacket I purchased from the Ob/Gyn club’s fundraiser and went to the home improvement store (don’t get me started on the irony of that) to make a return.

New Jacket                    
The lady doing my return looked straight at the logo on my snazzy new jacket (which has the name of my school on it) and said “Oh what’s your major?” but, before I even had time to explain she blurted out “Or does that jacket belong to your husband?”
Excuse me? Does it…….what?

-glance around for store security

consider jumping across counter and using caulking tube as weapon-

“Uhh….ummm….no….NO actually it’s mine” was all I could get out.

So, normally I can pass the “Oh, to be a nurse?” off as maybe they don’t know that ‘Medical School’ is not actually some all-inclusive term for learning about anything remotely related to health care. I can understand that, everyone doesn’t know someone in nursing school or PT school or medical school and they might not understand that they are different.

But, this one….there was no mistaking her subconscious stereotyping.

She was either saying “You look like you wear men’s clothing.” or “There’s no possible way you are actually in medical school, that MUST belong to your (apparently very tiny) husband.”

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18 Comments + Add Comment

  • OMG this is seriously my BIGGEST pet peeve. It drives me insane. If I were in school to be a nurse, I'd say, I'm in nursing school. And again, several of my female classmates have had the same thing happen. None of the guys have.

  • after our conversation on Twitter the other week, I posted an informal survey on Facebook. I got the same results – my male classmates never have to explain what being in med school means while a good portion of my female classmates do. A female friend of mine that is a practicing physician posted this:

    "Yeah, you're a nurse, get used to it. It gets better when you stand a in a patient room in a long white coat that clearly says MD or DO, and there's a male nurse next to you with a name tag that clearly says RN, and they patient refers to you as nurse and him as doctor.

    The fact that a large number of people do not understand that women can be doctors is why I continue to introduce myself to patients as "Dr. Kirley." I used to think I wouldn't do that because it's so formal and I want them to be comfortable with me, but if I don't they're confused about what my role is."

    So really this is only the beginning.

  • @rachel Oh gosh. That does not make me feel better lol. What do you do in that situation?? I feel like I would be so distracted by my annoyance/anger that I wouldn't be able to adequately treat my patient. In other news, I'm pretty sure I should purchase this for my husband: and head back to the store to visit my old lady friend. What do you think? I think I'll add that to this post. :)

  • I had a real men marry doctors shirt in med school haha.

    I'm in my last yr of residency

    Introduce myself as doctor, always

    Yet 2 seconds later I'm usually referred to as "this lady" or "this nurse". Trust me, it will never end.

  • Ok, it's not just me! I'll often get asked what I'm in school for, I'll say "Medical School" and then they'll ask what I'm going to be.

    Are there people going around saying they're going to medical school who are studying to be nurses and PAs? Is it seriously just because we're women? :(

  • Oh my gosh yes this happens to me all the time!!!!

    And then once the person you're talking to gets that you're ACTUALLY going to be a DOCTOR, don't they always say,

    "Oh, are you going into pediatrics?"

    P.S. I think I need to buy that shirt for my fiance!

  • hahaha i love this! go girl!

  • you definitely ought to buy that shirt! now i'm going to ask my girlfriends in med school how often they get asked the nurse question. i'm sadly not at all surprised that the guys never get asked. :-(

  • So a twist on this is how hard it is on guys who decide to go to nursing school. I have had a few come through on rotations and they don't have it easy…maybe that's one way of the universe to sorta balance the scale. While we're on the subject…well, we're really not on this subject….but anyway…. PA's and NP's….please don't let you're patient's leave your clinics with the understanding that you are the physician. I think most of the time its misleading by exclusion of information… but all the same it is still misleading… God speed to all you females that will continue to change the perception of the uninformed, uneducated or down right rude population.

  • I often wonder if this 'knee jerk' reflexive comment will ever diminish. The gender stereotyping in the health care field is overwhelming.
    I find it very comical and ironic that I CHOSE my PCP a number of years ago on their quality of care and respect to their patients. It just so happens my PCP is a woman. I female doctor taking care of a male nurse! OH the horror. LOL.

  • It's pretty sad that when you introduce yourself as "Doctor —" they still call you a nurse. However, since "civilians" are mostly blind to clues about rank even when they're not under stress, I suggest that every service coat be labelled front & back with the full term & sleeves with the short form: Doctor /MD, Registered Nurse /RN, Nurse Practitioner /NP, Technician / Tech, Physiotherapist /PT, Food Worker, Dietitian, Planner, Nutritionist, Social Worker, Occupational Therapist, Orderly, or whatever else seems appropriate. It would certainly help me when I'm looking at a gaggle of people in baggy pastels.

  • Of course, if people misinterpret your message, you can always forestall them and announce, "I'm studying to be a doctor" or "I'm going for my MD in internal medicine and I'm your on-call doctor tonight."

  • Oh my goodness, I know that this is probably a very old post, but if I get asked if I'm going to medical school to do my nurse training one more time, I'm going to flip! Seems like the UK public have the same issues!

  • Wow – I can’t believe that happened to you! Interestingly, there are a lot of male nurses in training at my hospital. Not saying I have anything against male nurses, but I didn’t realize there were so many of them in-training. I wonder if one day the stereotypes will ever switch spots..? Or at least come to the point of non-existent!

    P.S. I know this is late – but I just saw this post :)

  • This is super late, but I just found your blog & I LOVE it! What I don’t love is being asked, as a 1st year med student, if I enjoy studying to become a nurse (in clinic, standing right next to my attending.. who’s a man. And who thought it was hilarious). Or if I’m going to to med school to become a PHARMACEUTICAL REP. That one’s my favorite. But maybe I should take it as a compliment, since pharm reps are pretty?

  • As a non-traditional Caucasian male medical student, one of my more embarrassing moments was when a patient told the young, foreign, female attending that she would rather talk to the “doctor” (MS3 me) standing at the back of the line behind the attending and two residents, both noticeably younger than me. This after introducing us all and explaining our roles. When all was explained again by the attending, the patient replied, “Oh, I thought you were the nurse”. I asked the attending later how that felt and if she wanted to discuss strategies to prevent this confusion. She replied that the patient’s misunderstanding didn’t bother her in the least and apparently never gave it another thought.

    Also, I told one of my neighbors that I had just graduated from medical school, and the next day when I saw her with several friends she proudly announced to the group that I was her neighbor and had just become a nurse.

    My conclusion is when the visual image lies outside the patients experience, they go with what they see rather than what they hear, for those patients who are wired to process visual over auditory channels.

    You can be proud that you are part of the tidal wave of change that forever eliminates the medical gender v. work role stereotype from the planet. The change has been wrought mostly over the last forty years, easily within the span of many people’s experience.

  • same in iran.and it surprised me ! :)

  • Yeah the sexist stereotyping sucks. The converse of this (people assuming women medical students must be in nursing school), is that my classmates in nursing (RN) school that are guys always got asked if they were doctors, or medical students. Even at the beginning of nursing school when they were total deer in the headlights.

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About The Author

I'm an ObGyn. I started this blog as a medical student (some would call that doctor school) and now I'm working as an Ob/Gyn, which is seriously the coolest job ever. I'm a twin mom and recently added a baby brudder to the mix. My life story through November 2010 can be viewed here. The events in the many years following can be summed up as wedding bells, books, exams, babies, and doctoring. I started this blog in hopes of landing a role in a Lifetime movie so I could quit medicine and move to Hollywood, but that hasn't if you wouldn't take medical advice from Angelina Jolie, you shouldn't take it from me. I may not even be a real person. In fact, I'm probably a spambot. Or possibly a 15 yo boy blogging from a dingy basement. If you're really interested you can read more about me here. If you have any questions or want to guest post contact me.

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