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?

Me: Yup.

Patient: Well, where is he?

Me: She’s right here.

Or…

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.

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  1. by Cristian

    On October 24, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    I studied in Argentina… my class was 75/25… 75% women. Down there dentistry is mostly studied by women. The strange thing is, on the professional field, is also a male dominated career (most women don’t finish up or don’t practice that much).

    I always try to talk patients out of their sexist ideas of the profession. I’ve had hundreds of patients saying they were happy I was doing that extraction -”in WhateverDental they put a girl to see me, I better come here”. My answer is “you should see that 5-foot-tall super skinny indian girl extracting teeth… she’s faster than I am!”

    I think that helps her patient pool… it certainly leaves a very strange combination of fear, discomfort and suspicion on their faces… (I don’t think it helps me! haha)

  2. by Sarah

    On October 25, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    I’m a young female doctor and walk into a room in a white coat, introduce myself as Dr. So-and-So and people STILL think I’m their nurse. The way I finally made peace with it (for the most part) is to remind myself how highly I regard many of the nurses I work with. And to remember how much many of the patients like their nurses even when they think the doctor is a jerk. In that light being mistaken for one of them seems a little more like a compliment than just a sexist mistake.

  3. by Jessica

    On October 29, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    How about BEFORE you pick up a syringe, do the patient a favor, quit assuming they know you are the doctor, and introduce yourself. We are after all paying you a good amount of money for a service. Patients are more interested in making sure the correct person is about to drill in their mouth. Nothing sexist about that.

  4. by Julia

    On October 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Obviously I always introduce myself as doctor when I walk into a room with a new patient. I would hope that everyone does that.

  5. by Caro B

    On November 1, 2011 at 11:09 am

    You know, I’m sure there are many of the patients doing that whole “YOU are the dentist/doctor/fireperson” who are men, but I’m sure there are still some women that do it, as well. I know my own mom has done it; although, she always does the ‘but as long as she’s committed to her career/job, then that’s really good’ thing afterwards. Sometimes, it’s just the generation they grew up with, and old habits are hard to shake.
    I remember as a teenager the new dentist my brother and I went to was a woman, and she was FANTASTIC. The best dentist I’ve ever had: She took her time to explain exactly what she was going to do (at the time, extractions of two teeth), how she was going to inject with the syringes and how long it would take to gain effect, and was very courteous to both of us.

    As far as announcing herself, I don’t know of too many doctors that DON’T do that first thing. Hmm.

    I think it’s more a matter of a little something called ‘selective hearing’ that affects so many.
    Just saying, in case there’s still naysayers trying to put that thought out there as an excuse for people stereotyping and labeling women.