It was sometime in the 1980s. Three of us young women doctors were driving back from a day at the beach. Still sandy and sunscreen covered, we were dressed in our bathing suits and cute beach coverups. Near dusk, on a country road, we came upon a car accident and an ambulance. Pulling over to the side of the road, we piled out of the car, ran up to the EMT’s and announced, breathlessly, “We’re doctors! How can we help?”
“Yea, right.” The EMT drawled, totally unimpressed with us. He and his partner continued to bundle the car accident victims into the ambulance, while we stood there, astounded. It had never occurred to us that we wouldn’t be believed. Now I admit, we didn’t look professional, but why would we say we were doctors if we weren’t?
The next year, I was in private practice in a small Southern town. On my day off, I was strolling through the town square when I saw a motorcyclist run the red light, slam into and catapult over a car, landing in the street. Without a thought, I dashed into the street to him, and began to assess him. Immediately a policeman appeared, and began shouting, “Get up! You’re blocking traffic!” He was yanking at the dazed motorcyclist and trying to pull him up. I grabbed the policeman’s arm, shouting back, “I’m a doctor! Don’t move him! Let me check him!”
“Ha!” the policeman retorted, looking at my cutoff jeans and flip-flops. A lot of yelling ensued, and he finally allowed me to assess the guy and leave him in the street until an ambulance arrived.
A few years later, covered with face paint and wearing glitter wigs, a friend and I were at a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, when an elderly lady fainted. We did a quick assessment, flagged down a policeman, and got an ambulance called. Everyone looks pretty crazy during Mardi Gras, so nobody appeared to be surprised we were doctors.
There have been so many similar episodes over the years. Car wrecks, pedestrians hit by cars, dog bites, soccer field accidents, pool party misadventures. We’ve all been there, right?
Just last week, I walked out of the grocery store and noticed a clump of people in the parking lot, standing and staring down. I realized an unconscious elderly lady was the object of attention. Walking over, I announced I am a doctor and asked if I could help. They were only too glad for me to take charge. Why the change?
I’m hopeful it’s because people have gotten used to the idea that women are doctors. After all, over 1/3 of all doctors are women now. There are more women medical students than men now. Perhaps some of it is my age. Now I am older, with streaks of grey in my hair, dress more conservatively, and have cultivated an air of authority after years of medical practice. Maybe I seem more “doctor-ish”, whatever that is.
And I hasten to say, I am not seeking out strangers to take care of. I always shudder inside when the dreaded “Please push your call button if you are a doctor” announcement comes overhead on an airplane. I’m a pediatrician and feel a bit rusty in the adult care world. But I’m always willing to help if I can. Just believe I’m a doctor when I say I am, OK?