“Oh, you’re my doctor? A woman?”
Who do you picture walking through the exam room door at your new doctor’s office? Is it the Norman Rockwell depiction of an older, jolly looking male? After residency, I was alarmed at how many patients commented on my age and gender:
“How old are you, 12?” or, “Oh, you’re my doctor? A woman?”
This got me thinking about misconceptions people have about doctors, and I thought I could share a few things many people may not know about their favorite neighborhood doctor.
1. We are not as rich as you think. It’s true that doctors make a salary that is well above the national average. However, after about 10 to 15 years of education and training, making little to no money, we find ourselves in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. It can take about double the amount of time originally invested to repay a debt, which can end up costing more than twice as much due to accrued interest. I tell people all the time, don’t become a doctor if you are trying to be rich. Become a doctor because you can’t see yourself doing anything else and you are willing to put in the sacrifice.
2. We exist in female form. While 70% of physicians in the U.S. are male, the number of females entering the medical field continues to grow. Not only do females have to jump through the same hoops as their male colleagues when it comes to medical training, they may even have a slight edge. A study done by the University of Montreal showed that female doctors score higher on quality and care measures and are more likely to follow evidence-based guidelines. Another study showed that female physicians tend to show more empathy and are better listeners. (This is not meant to bash male physicians. There are very talented male physicians practicing medicine as well.)
3. We are young. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, of the active physicians in the U.S. in 2012, about 60% were under the age of 54. With baby boomers retiring, someone has to take over the roles of older doctors (who, by the way, were at some point young too). Physicians fresh out of residency have had several thousands of hours of experience in addition to seeing several thousands of patients. While more experience is an advantage, so is knowing the latest health guidelines. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that younger physicians are more likely to order necessary tests and appropriately counsel patients on preventive health than their more experienced colleagues.
4. We know more than medical websites. It’s wonderful when people want to be informed about their health. There is, however, a lot of false medical information on the Internet. Doctors learn the information presented online at an advanced level and take it a step further by applying that information to each individual. A cough in Mr. A who smokes, may be related to something completely different than a cough in Mrs. C who may have other health problems or medications.
5. We are human. Doctors have a lot of responsibilities placed on their shoulders, which is why becoming a physician is not easy; we are dealing with human lives after all. That being said, doctors don’t always have all the answers either. It’s called the “practice” of medicine for a reason. Sometimes we have to try a few things and rule some things out, which may require a few tests, additional appointments or even referrals to other physicians.
The stone age has passed
Regardless of our age, gender, or student loan debt, doctors have all taken an oath. An oath promising to value and respect human life, do no harm, maintain confidentiality and ultimately do what is best for patients and our community.
So the next time a young doctor walks into the room, give her the benefit of the doubt. She may be 20-something, driving a 2000 Toyota, with half of her paycheck paying off student loan debt. If you look hard enough you may see the “age lines” she and the next generation of young doctors acquired through the many sleepless nights and delayed gratification invested in taking care of you and your loved ones.
Aunna Pourang is a family physician who practices integrative medicine. She is the author of the upcoming book, Meditate Don’t Medicate: A 14-Day Journey of Letting Go and Finding Yourself. She can be reached at her self-titled site, Dr. Aunna Pourang, MD.
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