The rooms on the observation unit are small, so as I rounded with my team, we were forced to encircle the patient’s bed to fit in the space. I, her attending physician, stood at the right side of the head of the bed as one resident, two interns, and three medical students took their places around the bed. She looked at our group and asked who was present. Before I could introduce each team member, she looked at me in my long white coat and attending physician ID badge and remarked, “Clearly, you’re my nurse.”
I reminded her that I was Dr. Caputo, the supervising doctor in charge of her care, and that we had met in the Emergency Room the previous evening. I introduced the team and, after some small talk about the trainees’ future plans, our team completed the patient visit and left the room.
Out in the hallway, my students were mortified. They are so entrenched in the hierarchy of medicine that they could not believe that the most senior medical team member would not easily be recognized as such by a patient. They found it incredulous that, weekly, I experience entering a patient’s room to hear, “Hey, can I call you back? My nurse just walked in.”
I am sad for my female medical students who are entering the clinical world and too quickly will also be treated differently than their male counterparts.
So I hold on to those patients, mostly older women, who confide in me, “I just want to tell you how wonderful it is to see you and all the other woman doctors here. I wish it could have been like that when I was younger.”