Just Call Me Dr. Mom
I work in a pretty male-dominated profession. It’s not so much that way anymore– my dental school class was pretty much 50/50, but historically most dentists are men, and like most fields, it is slow to change.
Because of this, and also partially because I am short and skinny and look younger than I am, patients usually think I’m a hygienist or assistant or nurse. (Let’s hear it in the comments from the female doctors and dentists out there… I know I’m not the only one with this problem.) I don’t have anything against any of those professions, but since I have been working my butt off in school for, let’s see, my entire life, I would prefer that people not automatically assume that that isn’t the case.
Usually I laugh it off. But sometimes, especially when it’s the third or fourth comment I’ve heard that day, I am not so nice about it.
Patient: (nervously, as I pick up a syringe) The doctor’s going to take this tooth out… right?
Patient: Well, where is he?
Me: She’s right here.
Me: Hi, I’m Dr. Landry, it’s nice to meet you.
Elderly male patient: You’re the dentist?? I thought you were the nurse! I didn’t think women were allowed to be the doc! HAR HAR HAR!
Me: Oh yes, actually, we can vote now and everything.
(Hey, I’m a dentist, okay? We never claimed to be nice.)
It makes me think about the world my daughter will grow up in and work in. I mean, it’s 2011, right? This kind of stuff isn’t supposed to be an issue anymore. I suppose that in most ways, the important ways, it’s not. I plan to raise Caroline the way my parents raised me– not making a big deal out of it at all: it’s not a problem for a woman to be a doctor or a cop or a politician or any of the other “traditionally male” professions, nor is it a special accomplishment for us to become any of those things. Boy or girl, you can be what you want to be and what you work hard to be, and that is that.
But it is still irritating for me to face it multiple times a day, every day. Those ideas are still out there and they are more pervasive than they might seem. My female colleagues and I see it whenever a patient assumes we are an assistant or asks for a male provider out of some misguided notion that we are less competent. Female dentists I know have told me that they had difficulty finding their first job out of school because the wife of their would-be boss threw down the veto on having an attractive, young female associate. When I chose to become a dentist I did not think my success would depend on anything other than how hard I worked and how good my hands were. It is disheartening to learn that that is not necessarily the case.
So, maybe that’s the way it is. Maybe I have to work a little harder to gain the respect and trust of my patients because I happened to be born not-male. I’ve worked hard enough to get where I am that I’ll do it.
And my daughter can be whatever she wants to be, and if necessary, I’ll teach her to do the same.Add a Comment