The Lady Doctor

Over Thanksgiving I had a conversation with my mother-in-law about women doctors. She explained that she had to see a woman eye doctor because her regular doctor was unavailable and that this made her uncomfortable. Some people are uncomfortable with women doctors even today. Comfort with a doctor is an emotional thing, not something you can necessarily address rationally. With each generation this discomfort will lessen. Still, when I play the very old doctor riddle with students in class, most can’t solve it. Here’s the riddle:

A man and his son were in a car and had an accident on the highway. The boy was critically injured and rushed to the hospital. Doctors are not allowed to work on their family. After seeing the boy in the emergency room, the doctor said, “I can’t work on this child. He’s my son!”

Students typically answer with the boy has two dads, it’s his step-dad, it’s his grandfather. The correct answer, of course, is that the doctor is the boy’s mother. The riddle illustrates male as the “default setting” for doctors. Even though more students get this answer correctly over the years, the numbers who miss it are disheartening. After all this time….

While visiting my “lady dentist” this morning, I remembered the conversation with my mother-in-law. I explained to her that nearly all my health care providers are women, and that it was an intentional choice. Out of all my providers, I have only two males: a cardiologist and a shrink. There are no women cardiologists on my insurance, and my shrink is great.

I seek out women for two reasons. First, women providers need support. Many people avoid women health care providers simply because they are women, so I like to counterbalance that. Think of all the years that women doctors spent struggling through a predominantly male atmosphere to get the exact same training as men only to come out the other side with less respect and credibility.

Second, I do think women providers often (not always) have a better bedside manner. There are exceptions, of course.

So…here’s to the wonderful women in my life. I’m grateful to them.

 (Note: The riddle fails to illustrate the gender point because the two dads could be a gay couple; the fact that students find this solution with greater frequency is heartwarming.)

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