Because I am a small, young, Asian female. That’s why.
And you know what? I totally get it. I’ve grown up in a Western society. And even I almost expect my doctor to be a tall, middle-aged white man. The cognitive dissonance resulting from a child-like, ethnic person announcing my name in the waiting-room and offering me medical expertise not meeting my expectation of what I think my doctor should look like would require some getting used to.
Here are some questions I can recall being asked, after specifically introducing myself as “the doctor for today” or “Dr Rebecca”,
“How old are you? You look like you should be at school”
“I’d prefer to see someone more experienced”
“Are you even a real doctor?”
“Are you a nurse?”
“So… when am I seeing the doctor?”
Patient: “My pharmacist is the same ethnicity as you” Me: “What ethnicity might that be?” Patient: “I don’t know, some sort of Asian”. Me: “You do realise that Asia is made up of a lot of countries right?” Patient: “Yes I do, I’ve been there”.
Or sometimes they don’t even have to say anything. They might just act passive aggressively as if they’re annoyed that they didn’t get quite what they paid for, or they’ll keep mentioning that their white male doctor doesn’t usually ask them so many questions and just gives them what they want ie. antibiotics when it isn’t clinically indicated.
This has always been a problem for me. To compensate for my youthful appearance, when I worked in the hospital I would make sure that I dressed nicely and did my hair and make up every morning so that I could look older and well-presented so that people would take me seriously.
After about a year of doing that I couldn’t be bothered anymore. Why did I need to adjust my appearance in order for people to take me seriously?
Perhaps these patients who have a problem with me can adjust their expectations. Perhaps they should consider that the fact that I am a doctor is evidence that I’ve been to medical school for 6 years. Just like every other doctor. And it is now my 6th year of working as a doctor. Perhaps they can judge me on my ability to help them with their medical issue rather than on my appearance.
But it’s all very well and good to think of how other people can change. But it’s nothing other than idealistic. I can only control my own actions.
So I decided that what I had to do was adjust my attitude. I understood that yes, people might not expect their doctor to look like me and they might be surprised when they get me as their doctor. I don’t have a problem with this brief internal conflict going on in someone’s mind. But if this then results in them being rude, racist, sexist, or hostile towards me… I’m simply not going to tolerate that. Just because my appearance doesn’t meet your expectations doesn’t make it acceptable for you to disrespect me. And it also doesn’t mean that I am going to bend over backwards to somehow prove that I am capable to you. I don’t need to. I have already proven myself by obtaining the necessary qualifications and continuing education that my profession requires.
And I think that’s really it. What I realised is that in life, there are people who will take you seriously and then there are people who aren’t going to take you seriously. People will see what they want to see in you. You have no control over that. You just have to accept that reality. But you do have control over how you see yourself. You have to see yourself as someone who is worthy of respect and dignity. So stand firm in your beliefs, be confident in your abilities while also accepting that you are human and will make mistakes, treat others with respect and kindness while also expecting the same in return. And do not tolerate anything less.