The other day I was checking in on one of my patients, a pleasant old man whom I enjoy chatting with every morning. I had been following him for a few days, and on this particular day, when I was doing his physical exam, and my male intern happened to be in the room with me, I told him I had to check his belly, and the patient said, "Sure, do whatever you have to do! You're the nurse! And he's the doctor!"
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened to me, and it will definitely not be the last. I wasn't angry at him at all, because he honestly didn't mean anything malicious by it. He just assumed that I was the nurse because I am a woman, even though I was wearing the exact same green scrubs and white coat that my intern was, and the nurses in our hospital wear blue. It's fine though, a lot of patients don't even notice the subtle clues about who's who in the hospital. I mean, how would they know?! And I can't really blame them. Each patient probably have between 10-30 different healthcare workers coming in and out of their rooms every day, many of whom don't even introduce themselves, so no wonder they can't keep track of everyone.
I realize that this stereotype of women being nurses and men being doctors isn't going to change any time soon, so I have learned not to get upset with patients making honest mistakes. However, when this happened the other day I found myself in a dilemma of whether or not I should set the patient straight. Should I just keep my mouth shut, and let him go on thinking I was a nurse? Does it really matter if he knows my "title"? Or should I speak up, and let him know that I am actually almost a doctor?
I decided that there was nothing wrong with telling him that I was actually a medical student, who will become a doctor in the near future. Of course, there was no reason for me to be confrontational, because he didn't do anything wrong, so with a smile on my face, I said very matter-of-factly, "Oh, actually I'm a medical student. I'm training to be a doctor!" He replied, "Oh! Well, you've got to get your training somehow!" And everyone was happy.