A better introduction

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Residency is just a little over a month away.

I've been trying not to think about it. I've been so happy during my time off. Playing with my boys, picking Bug up from school, reading to Monkey every night, catching up on my own reading.

I knew that it, like all vacations, wouldn't last. But it is so easy to pretend.

My first year, or intern year, contains a variety of clinical experiences. So that I have a broad variety of experiences on which to draw when I start dedicated anesthesia training during my second year.

I start in the emergency room.

I think my biggest fear about starting residency is being taken seriously. It never really happened during medical school. No matter how often I introduced myself as "Katherine, the medical student on the team," I was consistently called something else by patients.


Now, I'm not trying to belittle nurses or say that I'm better. Because without nurses, there could be no doctors. But the point is, I'm not a nurse. I'm a doctor.

Many school makes their medical students wear short, hip length white coats. This was to help differentiate medical students from residents and attendings. My school didn't do this. I wore a long white coat like everyone else. But despite this, I was never once "accidentally" called doctor.

Only nurse.

When people would ask what I was in school for, I would respond, "I'm in medical school." I got the same reaction from acquaintances, relatives, and strangers on the bus. "Oh, you're going to be a nurse!"

No. I'm not.

Once when I was admitting a patient from the emergency room, his cell phone rang. He answered it, talked for a moment, and then said, "Sorry. I need to go. There's a really pretty nurse here asking me some questions."

I know which emotion was stronger. I was flattered that he had referred to me as "very pretty" and not "nurse who looks like she hasn't slept in days, had time to comb her hair, and has the biggest, darkest circles under her eyes I've ever seen." But I was frustrated that he just assumed I was a nurse, despite my careful introduction.

It's not just my gender that have worked against me being taken seriously. It's my age. Or more accurately, my perceived age.

I think I can sum up this problem accurately with a single patient encounter. I had entered a room to place an I.V and take a patient back to the operating room. The patient turned to me before I had time to introduce myself and patted my arm.

"It's so nice they let high school students volunteer here."

Aww, thanks.

In the past, being seen as something other than I was and younger than I was made me timid. No one took me seriously, so I stopped seeing myself seriously. It wasn't until the end of medical school that I started to get a little confidence back.

This time around, I'm going to try to not let this past experiences hinder my confidence in anyway.

And this time, I can actually introduce myself as "Doctor Katherine." Maybe that will help.


Bonnie said...

Dear Dr.
I'm probably the only one you DON'T want to take you seriously. You can confide you're nervous, believe you're less experienced,etc. It seems it makes you nervous for me to take you seriously, but I do, reflections, insecurities and all. Everybody at one time or another feels inadequate measured against their universe. Those who don't are the untreatable psychos. You will cry when you miss things and dance when you meet the basics over and over. Confidence will come as surely as summer. I'm so proud of you! You don't look any younger than Edward Collin's dad!

Karen said...

I can imagine how frustrating it must be to spend all that money and all those years getting yourself through med school only to be mistaken for a nurse.

And I am right there with you on the age thing. I'm 32 and people still think I'm 21-22. I don't mind looking so young, but it drives me crazy when someone who's only 27-28 talks down to me because they think I'm younger.

Memento - Terri said...

I am 33 and I always get called sweetie and hun. They think I am younger than I am! It has it's good moments and bad. You could always mess with the next patient and when they refer to you as a nurse say " Oh I'm not a nurse I'm a patient. I just left the psych ward - Aren't these coats great?" I am just kidding but it would be funny to see their face!