Recently in November this year, the Uganda Medical Association called for a nationwide strike by all doctors in public service. It was bloody. I would have loved to share more of my perspectives on the strike seeing as I was in one of the public hospitals at the time, but it was a really hard time for the medical students as well. I couldn’t spare the time. But today I’d like to revisit a post I made on the subject of strikes by medical doctors. They are no joke and I only wish we’d all take them more seriously, both medical and non medical workers. It’s really deplorable when we let a strike go on for even a week let alone 100 days! I really hope we do better than this.
And now the second post on gender and the hospital. Here, I try to illustrate just how dangerous it is to not accord the same respect to all doctors regardless of gender. Again, this might not be an issue from where you stand or maybe you just haven’t been keen enough to notice. My aim though is that I cause you to search yourself for ways in which you have stifled equality in the workplace; even subtly.
Let me warn you first that for some of you, this is going to be a really boring post because in most places I think the case for female doctors has already been made. However, there are still a few scenarios that make me cringe which is why I still went ahead to post this boring article!
One time a passenger passed out on a plane. A young black lady doctor offered to help immediately but was dismissed by a flight attendant because she (the attendant) didn’t believe that she (the young black lady doctor) was a real doctor. After she’d stated her credentials and much other unrelated information (mark you this is an emergency), an older white male came up also claiming to be a doctor and so she (the young black lady doctor) was finally passed over for this older white man that had just showed up and hadn’t been subjected to the “required” due diligence before he could attend to the passenger.
One time during a ward round, we were led by a female attending and a female resident. Besides us was a patient, and he tugged onto the resident’s coat calling, nurse. She jeered at him and went on her way. Another time a similar incident occurred to another female resident, she wasn’t amused either but went on to explain to us that it was rather disrespectful to put her with her five years training and more as a doctor at the same level as a nurse. And I agreed with her, but I’d like to add a bit to her argument.
Where I come from, all nurses were female and all doctors were male. Consequently, male nurses are called doctors and female doctors are called nurses. Male nurses wear white coats and female nurses wear nurses’ uniforms. In fact, nurses’ uniforms are too awkward for male nurses to wear that everyone else just sympathises with them and lets them wear the white coats.
Medicine is hierarchical and conservative. I guess that is how we maintain order in the hospital. It is imperative that you know a person’s title and address them as such or accord them responsibility likewise. It completely upsets the order of things and compromises patients’ lives when roles and responsibilities are not well outlined. Which is why I agree with the female doctors that will not have anyone refer to them as nurses.
However, what is it to you that a patient in their ignorance addresses you inappropriately? Do you all of a sudden cease to be what you are? – a doctor? It’s not like when the patient called the female resident a nurse, the medical students were all of a sudden disillusioned and left the ward round because they had discovered that they were not getting proper guidance. Does it really matter that a person not professionally involved in health care gets the titles wrong?
I think it does matter which is why I started off with the story of one female doctor who was passed on for a male doctor in an emergency. But then again she was black and young so the question remains whether the attendant was racist or sexist or just didn’t trust young doctors. But I thought I’d lend it to my article anyway because like Tamika Cross (the young, black lady doctor) put it, “Whether this was race, age, (or) gender discrimination, it’s not right.”
If you pass on brilliant female doctors for male ones, you compromise health care as a whole because there are already few doctors yet you have a good number of them working at excess capacity simply because they don’t fit your backward stereotypes of what a doctor is like. And it’s not like you have to shut the doors of medical schools on women or deny them promotions in the work place but every explicit and implicit way in which you favour men over women in medicine. Maybe all you did was disrespect a female head of department in front of all her juniors because she is a woman and after all what can she do about it and thereby compromised the running of a whole department in the hospital because workers lack proper leadership. So yes, female doctors should stand up for their right to be addressed appropriately for the good of the entire healthcare system.
What I disagree with though is the reaction of the resident to the patient that called her a nurse. He might have meant no disrespect and was genuinely ignorant of her proper designation yet her reaction did not help solve this problem but only left him confused and probably compromised his health. I think we should all, male and female take it upon ourselves to calmly educate people on the shift in the paradigm of employment in the hospital. Female doctors should be addressed as doctors and male nurses as nurses.
Featured image: The cast of Grey’s anatomy
During orientation for my third-year obstetrics rotation, one of the senior obstetricians picked on me and asked, “Why did you choose to study medicine?” and I almost immediately answered, “To help people.” Then he accused me of being a liar insisting that we had all joined medicine to make money.
Who’s a successful doctor? Especially when we can succeed or fail in a number of ways like financially, in family, career, friendships and society… all these are important and yet it is hard to succeed in all of them. All of these have the potential to be of great concern in choosing a specialty as a doctor or any career for that matter. But I also think that for all health professionals, one thing remains most important by far and that is patient care. Care for the patient is still more important than any other factor because of the nature of the commitment we made when we first set out on this journey, to be the protectors of life and good health and these, life and good health, are invaluable.
When I confessed in a post that I suffer from depression, a lot of my friends took interest in my mental health. A few (very few) were willing to consider my claims but the vast majority were not buying it. They thought that I was over appraising my symptoms and that basing on their own observations, I was a very happy guy. Now I know I was wrong to diagnose myself as I couldn’t have been objective about it. I have been psychoanalyzed by a specialist but his verdict was not to the specificity that I offered in that post. For this reason, I have since deleted that post from here. Nonetheless, I still have depressive symptoms from time to time which is how I have the audacity to continue writing about it.