I read recently about a study that found that while male doctors were introduced at conferences they were almost always called, “Doctor”, while female doctors were more likely to be introduced by their first names.
The study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, looked at 321 introductions and concluded that when men introduced speakers, professional titles were only used 49 percent of the time for female doctors, compared to 72 percent of the time for male doctors.
The article got me thinking about how I refer to my daughter’s doctors.
Miss Z has a complex medical background and we have had no shortage of doctors in our lives over the past seven years.
It’s rare for us to go a month without seeing at least one doctor.
Currently, Miss Z regularly sees a General Paediatrician, Neurologist, Endocrinologist, Respiratory Specialist, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Gastroenterologist and Ophthalmologist.
We are fortunate that we see the same specialists every visit, so I’ve got to know these seven doctors fairly well over the years.
Of the above group, three are women and four are men.
I call two of the female doctors by their first names, but refer to all the men by their titles.
Am I accidentally not giving the two female doctors the same level of respect as their colleagues?
If I’m speaking to someone else about the doctor – for example, a nurse or receptionist – I always refer to them as, “Doctor So-and-so”.
But when I’m having a conversation with the doctor, I definitely tend to use the female doctors’ first names more than the men.
Honestly, I’ve got enough to worry about with Miss Z’s health, but, as someone who wants to set an example for her daughters, the more I thought about it, the more the issue concerned me.
And it still troubles me now.
I don’t think I’m inadvertently discriminating against Miss Z’s female doctors.
Nor do I think I’m unconsciously belittling their expertise.
And I have referred to several of Miss Z’s male doctors by their first names over the years.
In fact, I only know the first name of our favourite (male) doctor in the Emergency Department.
I think how I refer to the doctors has more to do with my relationship with them.
Miss Z has very complex health issues and is diagnosed as palliative.
As a result, I see some of her doctors – particularly the two that I call by their first names - more than I see most of my friends and family.
And I’ve had more intimate, emotional, brutally honest conversations with these doctors than with anyone else.
We’ve discussed resuscitation plans, quality of life issues, and high-risk procedures and surgeries.
They’ve seen me cry and they’ve seen me put my foot down and demand action.
The doctors I call by their first names – male and female - are the ones I trust and respect the most.
They’re the ones that I turn to when I disagree with one of Miss Z’s other specialists.
I consider them to be part of, “Team Z” – working with us to keep our daughter as healthy and happy.
It is far from disrespect.
I just hope they know that.